RockStar Hotels Prevails Over Hard Rock Hotels in Name Use Court Battle

The court noted that 'rock star' has more than one meaning in the English language, only one of which relates to music, and that the services and experiences offered by each hotel group are more than sufficiently different to avoid creating confusion for consumers.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida has issued a judgement in favor of RockStar Hotels and rejecting claims of trademark infringement in a suit brought by Hard Rock Hotels (Hard Rock Café International USA, Inc.), allowing the hotel company to continue using the name RockStar Hotels. The court noted that 'rock star' has more than one meaning in the English language, only one of which relates to music, and that the services and experiences offered by each hotel group are more than sufficiently different to avoid creating confusion for consumers.

“This is a great victory for the independent entrepreneur facing intimidation by Goliath,” said Robert Santucci, president of RockStar Hotels. “We have a notably distinct offering aimed at discerning travelers, and we are very appreciative of the court’s decisive recognition that in no way do we infringe on the Hard Rock’s identity or offerings.”

Santucci launched RockStar Hotels in January 2017, offering customers a collection of pre-vetted, independent luxury hotel properties that combine lodging with a VIP experience for travelers seeking something different at popular and offbeat destinations. Examples of boutique hotels within the RockStar Hotels portfolio include the Hotel Ville Sull’Arno and Hotel Regency in Florence, Magna Pars Suites Milano in Milan, Hotel Lord Byron in Rome, and Palazzo Venart Luxury Hotel and Sina Centurion Palace in Venice. Launched with 40 hotels in seven countries, the RockStar Hotels portfolio has grown to include approximately 140 hotels across the globe.

Santucci, a hospitality veteran of brands including Marriott and Starwood, testified that the RockStar Hotels concept is not based on music, rocking the night away, or being a “party hotel.” Rather it connotes a hotel guest who is treated like a celebrity and a hotel that is at the top of the industry. Additionally, the court pointed out that the hotel experience a customer seeks from Hard Rock Hotels or its subsidiary Rock Star Suites is vastly different from the one a customer seeks from RockStar Hotels.

As noted in the court filing, RockStar Hotels qualification process consists of sending its in-house team to search foreign destinations and identify hotels meeting its standards in “service, décor and amenities,” including “unique, hidden properties that offer an intangible ‘rock star feel’.” A thorough screening process ensues to ensure that each hotel “has the RockStar edge.” Once a hotel is part of the portfolio, RockStar executives revisit the properties every 90 to 120 days to verify that quality levels are maintained.

Upon a hotel’s acceptance into the portfolio, members of the RockStar Hotels team research the geographic area to locate unique experiences for customers. As examples, the court cited the Palazzo Barbarigo, a 15-room property in Venice, that makes all RockStar members a guest of the opera during their stay; a Paris property that makes arrangements for a private couture fitting with fashion designer Jitrois followed by drinks with the designer; and the Manfredi Hotel in Rome that offers cooking classes with the executive chef of a local three-star Michelin-rated restaurant. Guests are also encouraged to make individualized requests. The collection also offers a variety of special perks available to RockStar guests at no additional cost. These include free upgrades, early check-in and late check-outs, and a variety of complimentary amenities.

“The court has clearly reached the right result in rejecting Hard Rock’s request for a preliminary injunction and finding that Hard Rock is unlikely to prevail at trial,” said Laura Chapman of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP, RockStar’s legal counsel. “Trademark infringement requires proof of a likelihood of confusion between brand names and there is no confusion here. RockStar Hotels can rightfully continue using its brand name.”