Airstream rental startup hits lawsuit speed bump

George Demopoulos January 7, 2016 0

Bill Ward is taking his Airstream rental business in a new direction. Photos courtesy of Living Airstream.

Bill Ward is taking his Airstream rental business in a new direction. Photos courtesy of Living Airstream.

Business is getting choppy for a Denver company that renovates and rents old Airstream trailers.

Airstream Inc. is suing Denver-based Living Airstream and its owner Bill Ward, alleging his company name infringes on Airstream’s own copyright, according to a lawsuit filed in December.

The complaint, filed by Airstream’s attorney Rachael Rodman of Cincinnati-based firm Dinsmore & Shohl, alleges that Ward is intentionally capitalizing on Airstream’s reputation as an “undisputed titan of American industry” and “iconic American brand” for his own gains.

Airstream is asking the court to bar Ward from using the Airstream name. Ward said he’s planning on finding a new name.

“I think we’ll go with more of a generic name that really doesn’t represent what we do,” Ward said. “But as long as we’re able to keep our internet positioning and SEO, it shouldn’t make a difference because our content shows we’re an Airstream rental company.”

Ward’s company renovates old Airstream RVs to rent out for special events. Ward said he has 18 trailers in his fleet that he rents out for tailgates, parties, music festivals and corporate events, and he plans to buy more this summer.

In its complaint, Airstream Inc. claims ownership of the Airstream name for companies that repair, maintain or customize trailers and other vehicles. Airstream argues Ward’s use of the Airstream name falsely suggests that Living Airstream is endorsed by or affiliated with Airstream Inc.

The dispute began in May of 2014, according to the complaint, when Airstream became aware of Ward’s company and sent him a cease and desist letter. The letter was returned as undeliverable, and Airstream says it sent three more letters to all of Ward’s known addresses and 2015.

Ward said he travels abroad frequently and didn’t become aware of the issue until early 2015. He replied to Airstream’s fourth letter, which the company sent in July of 2015, according to the lawsuit.

He offered to change the name of his company to “ShareStream” and even registered a domain at sharestreamer.com, according to court documents, but Airstream also considered that name too similar to its own.

“I thought we had a good name with ShareStream, but they said it sounded too much like (Airstream) and they’d pursue me in court if I kept that name,” Ward said.

The sharestreamer.com site is not currently live, but Ward uses the ShareStream name on his website airstreamparty.com.

Airstream was founded in 1931 in Southern California and now employs 500 staffers, according to the complaint. The company is asking the court to ban Ward from using the Airstream name and demanding any profits earned by Ward and damages sustained by Airstream Inc. as a result of the alleged infringement.

Ward, who bought his first Airstream five years ago, began steering his company in a new direction this summer when he began renting the trailers out as venues for corporate events. The company made $275,000 in 2014, up from $122,000 in 2013.

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