Gibson and Heritage Officially Settle Years-Long Trademark Dispute: ‘Gibson Can Move Forward and Focus on Innovation With Confidence’

Gibson ledger
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Gibson ledger
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Photo Credit: Nicholas Lazarine

Gibson Brands and Heritage Guitar have officially finalized a settlement agreement in their years-running legal battle over alleged trademark infringement.

Nashville-headquartered Gibson and Kalamazoo-based Heritage just recently settled the complaint, which the latter company filed back in March of 2020. The roughly three-year-old action has now been dismissed with prejudice, an order from Judge Hala Y. Jarbou shows, with each side covering its own attorneys’ fees.

Of course, the plaintiff business was founded in 1985 by former Gibson team members, after their previous employer relocated to Tennessee in 1976. Once Gibson had ceased using its Kalamazoo factory altogether, the mentioned individuals purchased the building and some of the equipment therein, beginning to craft and sell instruments as Heritage.

Predictably, this course of events set the guitar makers up for a courtroom confrontation, as Gibson sued in 1990 for alleged trademark infringement over the design and appearance of Heritage guitars including the H-535, the H-575, and the Super Eagle.

The parties settled in 1991, and per Heritage’s 2020 lawsuit, it and Gibson for nearly three decades “went their separate ways, each selling its own well-known guitars into the market, with no problems or issues.”

But after KKR assumed ownership of Gibson following the instrument manufacturer’s 2018 bankruptcy, the former entity “explicitly threatened to sue Heritage…presumably because of a prior unfavorable trademark decision” and alleged “phantom breaches” of the 1991 settlement, Heritage’s suit maintained.

“Heritage brings this action to resolve the cloud of fear, uncertainty and doubt that Gibson and KKR seek to cast over Heritage’s business by these ill-conceived threats,” the plaintiff company spelled out, indicating also that it had refuted the allegations at hand.

Lastly, in terms of pertinent background details, Heritage had specifically been seeking a declaratory judgement that it hadn’t violated the 1991 settlement or infringed the trademarks in question (numbers 1782606 and 2007277) – on top of a cancellation of said trademarks.

As initially noted, however, Gibson and Heritage have officially put the dispute to rest. And while the precise terms of the underlying agreement haven’t been publicly revealed, Gibson reached out to Digital Music News with a statement about the outcome, with which the company is “pleased.”

“For 130 years, Gibson has invested in innovation and been at the forefront of guitar development and evolution,” Gibson said in part. “As the matter is now resolved, Gibson can move forward and focus on innovation with confidence. … Gibson’s unique designs are registered and Trademarked shapes that are the exclusive property of Gibson.

“Most recently, the United States Courts ruled to protect Gibson’s intellectual property rights, upholding Gibson’s long-established and well-recognized trademarks,” the company proceeded, presumably referring to a 2022 legal victory over Dean Guitars.