By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
By Sam Levin
By Timothy Lane
By Sam Levin
By Dennis Brown
Ever since Johann Gutenberg invented the "Best Of" issue back in 1447, publications around the globe have become inured to what's known in the trade as the "Best-of Bitch," wherein spurned business owners call in to kvetch that the entire process is a stupid, favorites-playing travesty. But when Patrick Stoll called the RFT offices last Monday, it was truly one for the books.
Stoll, owner of Ruma's Deli on Hampton and Devonshire, phoned to say that DB's, the Soulard sports bar honored in the Best Use of the Worst Cheese category for its Famous Gerber sandwich, had stolen an award -- nay, a sandwich -- that's rightfully Ruma's.
That very day, Stoll's attorney mailed cease-and-desist notices to DB's and another eatery, Smugala's Pizza in Sunset Hills -- accusing them of trademark infringement and demanding that they immediately stop using the name "Gerber." The moniker belongs exclusively to Ruma's, asserts Stoll, who claims the sandwich was concocted in 1973 and named after a Ruma's customer, Dick Gerber.
For the uninitiated, the Famous Gerber is an open-faced sandwich made with large quantities of ham and Provel cheese and served hot.
Given that Stoll seemingly has a claim to the name, does he own the sandwich?
Not necessarily, according to attorney Grant Kang. Trademark law is a slippery eel, says Kang, who chairs the intellectual property group at Husch & Eppenberger, LLC and is an adjunct professor at the Washington University School of Law. As Kang sees it, the Gerber may be too far out of the proverbial oven for Ruma's to stuff it back in.
"The question is whether Gerber is the 'Domino's' in front of the 'Pizza' or the product itself," Kang elaborates. "Many companies have lost trademarks because their term, over time, has become the generic term for that particular type of product. This restaurant [Ruma's] is saying, 'No, no, no, we know you'd like this to become generic, but we're not gonna let it.'"
Therein lies DB's owner Johnny Daus' argument: that if a St. Louisan were asked to define the term "Gerber," he would respond with "hot, open-faced sandwich loaded with Provel and ham." In other words, Stoll laying claim to the Gerber is akin to someone attempting to own the term "toasted ravioli."
"I've been a St. Louisan all my life and I just thought it was a St. Louis tradition, like a Philly cheese steak," posits Daus, who says he had a Gerber on his menu at Carson's before selling that Soulard watering hole in the late '90s.
"Trademark owners are required under law to police their mark," Kang adds helpfully. "There is a point in time where you have to either act and defend your rights or you lose them."
Whether Ruma's acted quickly enough may be up to the courts to decide. But Stoll is convinced he's got a lock on the legal high ground.
"It's a Ruma's Deli original," he says of the Gerber. "I didn't invest my entire 401(k) in this business to have someone steal my sandwich name."
The Envelope, Please...
When St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce posted a biblical quotation outside her office, she did so with some reluctance, she told Unreal last month.
Well aware of the constitutional division between church and state, Joyce says she couldn't find a better quote than "Justice and only justice you shall pursue...," from Deuteronomy 16:20, to capture the sentiment that prosecutors aren't simply conviction-seeking missiles. She promised to replace the religious message with an equally good nonsectarian one (even if it came from us).
We're happy to report that readers responded to the Jennifer Joyce Quote Contest with a plethora of wisdom from the likes of Winston Churchill, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jimmy Carter and a host of others, several of whom we've never heard of.
In the close-but-no-cigar category, Joey Michaud came up with several dandies, including: "A good man would prefer to be defeated than to defeat injustice by evil means" (Sallust); "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" (the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.); and "Conscience is the chamber of justice" (Origen).
Lesley H. Mabrey sent in a couple of her own: "If you're black, we'll throw the book at your back," and "If you're black, you'll get no slack."
For that matter, Unreal came up with a few of our own: "You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law" (William Gaddis); "Justice will overtake fabricators of lies and false witnesses" (Heraclitus); and "Justice is a whore that won't let herself be stiffed, and collects the wages of shame even from the poor" (Karl Kraus).
Schlueter, who's an attorney, says he highlights quotes in newspaper clippings and sundry books for possible use in opening or closing arguments. Asked to pick his prize -- either a year's membership in the American Civil Liberties Union or one paid parking ticket -- he opted for the parking-ticket premium, even though he says his record is clean. "You never know," he tells Unreal. "I might just go park recklessly."
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