Thanks to a preliminary ruling made by the D.C. District Court this month, Coggins’ Sandwich Manufactory, the popular eatery located in the Ivory Tower residence hall, can keep its doors open – at least for now.
Seven months after the Illinois-based Potbelly Sandwich Works filed suit in U.S. District Court against Coggins’ because of a series of alleged similarities between the two sandwich shops, the company’s preliminary injunction against Coggins’ – which would have shut the shop down – has been denied by a District Court judge.
Potbelly believes that Coggins’ imitation is so profound that customers may actually believe that Coggins’ is a Potbelly store. The chain is also filing suit for monetary relief and said it wants to prevent any further infringement by Coggins’.
Although Coggins’ can remain in operation and continue its focus on expanding to more locations, it is still fighting lawsuits brought by Potbelly for a host of reasons.
“The injunction could have stopped operation,” said Coggins’ lawyer Keith Vernon, “but the underlying lawsuit still exists.”
On Sept. 8, Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. rejected an element of the Potbelly suit that sought to place an injunction on Coggins’ eateries, forcing the eatery to temporarily close until the case could be settled. Kennedy decided that while there was sufficient evidence for five of the six claims presented by the Potbelly, an injunction on the sandwich shop was denied.
According to court documents the judge ruled, “Proof as to the sixth element, that defendant’s trade dress is likely to cause confusion among ordinary purchasers as to the source of plaintiffs’ and defendants’ confusion among ordinary purchasers as to the source of plaintiffs’ and defendants’ goods, is insufficient to warrant injunctive relief.”
Potbelly says Coggins’ is infringing upon its trade dress by offering similar six-inch conveyor subs at a similar base price, a comparable selection of drinks and snacks, and the same style of cubby-hole shelves containing chips. Other similarities include design elements such as natural wood and concrete floors, a tin-style ceiling, signs with a vintage look and a chalkboard menu.
Sophomore Amalfi Parker said she noticed the similarities between the two sandwich shops immediately when she first saw Coggins’.
“There’s a Potbelly’s (at home), and when I came to GW I was like ‘wow … they’re almost exactly the same,'” she said. “But I mean, I feel like the menus are different enough.”
A number of students agreed that the suit is unwarranted.
“(The lawsuit) is stupid,” sophomore Alejandra Maria Rios said. “That’s like Applebee’s suing Chili’s or T.G.I. Friday’s.”
Other issues of concern to Potbelly are Coggins’ similar style of bags for to-go orders, the same method of ordering food and the parallel “histories” of both stores.
Potbelly was established in 1977 at a Chicago antique store, where the owners were attempting to boost business by offering toasted sandwiches.
Coggins’ lawyers said that Coggins’ shop chronicles the life of a fictitious character, “J.D. Coggins,” and is themed around an industrial revolution factory, not an antique shop.