Nearly a year after it began, a lawsuit that pitted the Red Wing Stoneware factory against a group of stoneware collectors has been settled with both sides claiming victory.
The federal trademark infringement lawsuit alleged that the collectors, through their Red Wing Collectors Society Foundation, were infringing on the trade name and wing logo of the iconic Minnesota company.
The suit was filed amid claims from factory owner Bruce Johnson, who said that he was the target of personal threats and vendettas from unnamed stoneware collectors, and at one point had feared for his life.
Johnson said Monday the settlement was a "win for both parties."
"The whole thing started over an organization using our name without our permission," said Johnson, who added that the agreement ensures that the Collectors Society will abide by terms that prohibit it from using his company's name. No damages were awarded, and the settlement didn't require the collectors to change any of their practices.
A spokesman for the collectors said they were happy to move on.
"We're pleased it's over with," said Dave Hallstrom, president of the Collectors Society, the nonprofit that runs the Pottery Museum of Red Wing. "We all have to live here in Red Wing. We all want to get along."
Johnson said in his suit that his company filed for trademark protection of its Red Wing logo in 1997. The trademark was granted in 2001 and includes an image of a wing above the words "Red Wing Pottery," according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In 2014, Johnson filed for two additional trademarks, each of them stamps that appear on Red Wing Stoneware.
The suit alleged seven counts of trademark infringement, dilution, unfair competition and unjust enrichment, and asked for damages and attorney's fees.
The collectors were represented pro bono by the IP and Technology Litigation Group at Robins Kaplan LLP.
The two sides have discussed trademarks and logos for years, according to correspondence from Collectors Society files. Concerned that the value of their collections could be diminished by counterfeiters or by companies using similar-sounding names, the group moved in 2001 to reserve the names of various pottery factories that once existed in Red Wing.
The collectors opened a museum that same year, originally calling it the Red Wing Pottery Museum. After Johnson purchased the company in 2013, he told the collectors they needed to change the museum's name, as well as the name of a Gmail account and an Instagram account. The collectors agreed to all of it.
Johnson said Monday that he filed suit in March of last year after learning of the collectors' plans to use his company's trademarks in other ways.
"We said, 'No, let's just not go there,' " he said.
The settlement prohibits the collectors from using four specific marks that use the words "Red Wing Pottery," "Red Wing Stoneware Co." or include a wing logo or some combination. Johnson, through his business Wells Valley Enterprises Inc., acknowledged in the suit that he never saw an actual use of the disputed trademarks by the collectors.
He said last fall that the town's leadership, business community and tourism groups had made him feel unwelcome after he bought the factory in 2013. The trademark dispute and hard feelings that lingered from a 1967 strike at the stoneware factory were behind some of the tensions, he said at the time. On Monday, Johnson declined to comment about that history.
He confirmed that the former location of his Red Wing Stoneware and Pottery retail store at 1920 Old W. Main St. would soon be listed for sale or for lease. A smaller retail location remains open at the company's factory at 4909 Moundview Dr., Red Wing. Johnson also sells Red Wing Stoneware and Pottery online.