Bridgestone has responded to Sony's lawsuit against the tyre maker and the actor who plays Kevin Butler, the fictional Sony executive who has fronted PlayStation in the US for years.
Last month Sony sued Bridgestone and Jerry Lambert, the actor who plays Kevin Butler, after a US telly ad showed Lambert advertising tyres by playing the Nintendo Wii, which customers can receive as part of a gaming promotion. The ad, later edited to remove Lambert, can be seen at GoNintendo.
Sony, citing a breach in US trademark law, reckons the ad "depicts a Bridgestone employee who consumers reasonably perceive to be Kevin Butler promoting the Nintendo Wii, a product that competes directly with SCEA's PlayStation products".
To back up its claim, Sony said Kevin Butler has appeared in more than 30 ads, has a presence on Twitter (with a whopping 129,000 followers) and Facebook and has waved his arms about on stage at E3. A Kevin Butler costume is available for LittleBigPlanet Karting as a pre-order bonus.
In short, Sony reckons when we gamers see Jerry Lambert, we see Kevin Butler, and accuses Bridgestone of cashing in.
"With the intent of unfairly capitalising on the consumer goodwill generated by Kevin Butler, Bridgestone has used and is using the same or confusingly similar character, played by the same actor, to advertise its products or services in the commercial," Sony said.
In a response unearthed by The Hollywood Reporter, Bridgestone insists Kevin Butler did not appear in its ads at all, "and thus denies that he speaks or does anything whatsoever in the commercial".
Bridgestone will fight the suit and attempt to show that Sony has failed to register a trademark on Kevin Butler, that the character has not acquired secondary meaning and there is no likelihood of confusion among consumers.
There are other aspects of this case. The contract between Sony and Wildcat Creek, Lambert's company, was entered into on 7th August 2009 and contained an exclusivity clause that prevented Lambert from working for PlayStation competitors, such as Nintendo. The contract expired at the end of August 2012. The Bridgestone ads appeared on TV three days later. Sony said Lambert started work for Bridgestone in February 2012 while still under contract with SCEA, and so Sony claims a breach.
The case may be settled out of court. Sony has until 12th October 2012 to either withdraw its motion or see it through at a hearing.