By Jim Smith
BOSTON — A federal court battle over who has the right to name a Boston pub “Kitty O’Shea’s” ended last Friday with a victory for two Irish brothers, Brian and Kevin Loughney, who own the Kitty O’Shea’s on State Street in Boston as well as pubs by the same name in Dublin and throughout Europe.
The Hilton Hotel Corporation, which also owns a Kitty O’Shea’s in Boston, filed suit against the Loughneys in March 2001. As a result of last week’s verdict, the Hilton hotel at Logan Airport must now remove its Kitty O’Shea sign from its pub at that location.
The Hilton unsuccessfully argued in court last week that it should be entitled to exclusive trademark rights to the name of the 19th century Englishwoman who had an affair with Irish nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell. It acknowledged that it decided to use that name for its Chicago pub, which opened in 1986, following a visit by staff to Brian Loughney’s Kitty O’Shea’s in Dublin, which he had opened in 1981.
In 1997, the Loughneys filed a trademark application, seeking exclusive rights to the pub name. Hilton objected to that application and eventually filed the federal lawsuit against them. As that process was unfolding, both sides opened separate pubs in 1999 bearing the Kitty O’Shea’s name, one on State Street and one at Hilton Boston Logan Airport Hotel.
Irish Echo readers may recall the brouhaha that erupted during that period in 1999 when three middle-aged women from the Boston area filed a discrimination suit against the Hilton Corporation, claiming that management was planning to push them out of their waitressing jobs at the hotel in order to begin staffing its new Kitty O’Shea’s Pub with a fresh crop of young waitresses from Ireland. Hilton denied those allegations and eventually resolved the matter to everyone’s satisfaction.
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During the 1990s, the Chicago pub and the Dublin pub did a flourishing business, with both achieving public notoriety. In its court bid to stop the Loughneys from obtaining trademark rights to the new name, Hilton alleged in its complaint that “substantial amounts of time, effort and money have been expended over the years in ensuring that the purchasing public associates Kitty O’Shea’s exclusively with Hilton . . . the defendants [the Loughneys] are profiting at Hilton’s expense. . . . Unless the defendants are permanently enjoined by the Court, Hilton will continue to suffer irreparable harm . . . ”
For their part, the Loughneys claimed that the general public in 1999 was far more likely to associate the name Kitty O’Shea with the Dublin pub than with the one in Chicago. By that time, the Loughneys had also opened other Kitty O’Shea’s pubs throughout Europe.
After deliberating for two hours Friday, the jury concluded that the Hilton had not proven its claim that Boston consumers by early 1999 were likely to associate the name Kitty O’Shea’s with the popular Chicago pub.
U.S. district Court Judge Richard Stearns then awarded the Loughneys exclusive rights in Boston to the pub trademark.
“It’s a great relief, and we’ll definitely be doing some celebrating tonight,” Brian Loughney said after the verdict was announced.