Coggins’-Potbelly lawsuit may be settled

After a threat of being shut down by court order, Coggins’ Sandwich Manufactory may be nearing the end of its legal dispute.

Shortly after Coggins’ moved into its Ivory Tower location in August 2004, the Illinois-based Potbelly filed suit against Coggins’ in the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., alleging similarities between the two sandwich shops. According to court documents, Potbelly sued Coggins’ for stealing its trade dress, the trademarked atmosphere and layout of the food venue.

Last week, lawyers representing both companies said they are currently in settlement discussions to avoid a trial.

“(Coggins’) copies in fine detail both the look and feel of a Potbelly restaurant and its product offerings,” Potbelly stated in its initial complaint.

In September 2005, Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. denied an injunction in the Potbelly suit that would have forced the eatery to temporarily close until the case could be settled.

Tracy Schario, director of GW Media Relations, said that Coggins’ isn’t going anywhere for now.

“Until a conclusion is made in the lawsuit, it is difficult for the University to say,” Schario said. “Coggins’ will remain in Ivory Tower until the lawsuit is settled.”

Although the injunction was denied, John Rawls, a lawyer representing Potbelly, said that the lawsuit will go to court if the two restaurants cannot come to a settlement. He said that his client has a solid case against Coggins’.

“The two arguments of Coggins’ are basically that Potbelly is not especially unique and, second, that the Coggins’ look is different enough not to confuse people,” Rawls said. “First, there are no other sandwich shops other than Coggins’ this similar to Potbelly. Quiznos and Subway have very different trade dresses. Secondly, the look does confuse people and there are striking similarities between the two restaurants.”

John Climaco, a lawyer representing Coggins’ in the case, said “settlement negotiations are ongoing” and wouldn’t comment further.

The court date for the suit is slated for June 30, according to court documents obtained last week.

The lawsuit cites similarities, including the comparably priced six-inch subs, the same conveyor belt assembly style, a similar variety of drinks and snacks, and the same type of cubby-hole shelves for chips. Potbelly cites other similarities including interior designs such as natural wood and concrete floors, a tin-style ceiling, signs with a vintage look and a chalkboard menu.

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