Manager Lars Johnson in front of the advertising sign of his family´s restaurant. Oscar, the first goat was settled atop this roof in 1973, until the family thought the restaurant´s roof would be a better place.
From the Wall Street Journal, excerpts from the article by Justin Scheck and Stu Woo, September 17, 2010. All pictures posted at Wall Street Journal:
SISTER BAY, Wis.—Lars Johnson is proud of his restaurant's Swedish-meatball sandwich and pickled herring. But the signature offering at his Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant isn't on the menu; it's the goats grazing on the grass-covered roof.
Any other business thinking of putting goats on the roof will have Mr. Johnson's lawyers to contend with.
Some patrons drive from afar to eat at the restaurant and see the goats that have been going up on Al Johnson's roof since 1973. The restaurant 14 years ago trademarked the right to put goats on a roof to attract customers to a business. "The restaurant is one of the top-grossing in Wisconsin, and I'm sure the goats have helped," says Mr. Johnson, who manages the family-owned restaurant.
So when a tourist spot 750 miles away decided to deploy a rooftop-caprine population, Mr. Johnson made a federal case of it.
Last year, he discovered that Tiger Mountain Market in Rabun County, Ga., had been grazing goats on its grass roof since 2007. Putting goats on the roof wasn't illegal. The violation, Al Johnson's alleged in a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, was that Tiger Mountain used the animals to woo business.
The suit declared: "Notwithstanding Al Johnson's Restaurant's prior, continuous and extensive use of the Goats on the Roof Trade Dress"—a type of trademark—"defendant Tiger Mountain Market opened a grocery store and gift shop in buildings with grass on the roofs and allows goats to climb on the roofs of its buildings."
Al Johnson's "demanded that Defendant cease and desist such conduct, but Defendant has willfully continued to offer food services from buildings with goats on the roof," the suit continued.
Danny Benson, the offending market's owner, says that "legally we could fight it, because it is ridiculous." But it would have been too expensive to fight, he says. He considered replacing his goats with pigs before deciding their heft and tendency to "root around" would pose a danger to people below.
Earlier this year, Mr. Benson agreed to pay Al Johnson's a fee for the right to use roof goats as a marketing tool in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Al Johnson's is on constant lookout for other cloven-hooved intellectual-property violations. Mr. Johnson says the restaurant's Milwaukee law firm has sent letters to other alleged offenders, such as a gift shop in Wisconsin with a fake goat on its roof. It removed the ersatz ungulate.
In July, Virginia news outlets reported that goats on a hillside routinely hopped onto a platform under a billboard advertising two International House of Pancakes restaurants. Drivers pulled over to snap pictures, and one IHOP manager was quoted saying he enjoyed the publicity. Mr. Johnson says his lawyer is monitoring the situation in case "they take it a step further." Lisa Hodges, who manages one of the restaurants, says she doesn't plan to intentionally use the goats for marketing. "We can't help it that they climb up there," she says.
Any business that sells food and uses goats to lure customers may be violating the trademark, says Lori Meddings, the restaurant's lawyer. "The standard is, is there a likelihood of confusion?" she says.
Al Johnson, Lars's late father, opened the Swedish restaurant with a partner in 1949 in a former grocery store in this tourist town on Lake Michigan. In 1973, he imported a wooden building from Norway to replace the old structure, and covered it with a traditional sod roof.
Al Johnson's best friend, Winky Larson, brought him a goat named Oscar as a gag gift that year, the Johnson family says. Someone then put Oscar on the roof, where he attracted passersby, inspiring the family to accumulate a herd.
Two decades later, the business was booming. Summer tourists packed the restaurant, says Mr. Johnson, making it one of the largest U.S. importers of lingonberries. The family in 1996 registered the "Goats on the Roof" trademark. Mr. Johnson, whose father died in June, recalls his lawyer telling him: "Lars, you have something very valuable here."
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