When Baltimore restaurateur "Sony" Florendo opened her first small food shop in Ocean City 11 years ago, she had no idea how much trouble her good name would be.
Since November, Florendo has been fighting a $2 million trademark infringement suit brought by Sony Corp. of America, which spotted an establishment called Sony's Philippine-Asian Restaurant in a telephone directory.
Last week she gave in, unable to continue a costly legal battle that pitted the resources of the maker of Walkmans, Watchmans and Betamaxes against Sony's fried rice and shrimp rolls.
"I am not competing with them. I'm not creating confusion. They are not in the food business. I am not in the electronic business," said Florendo, who runs four restaurants and a catering firm in Baltimore.
Sony Corp., which reported sales of more than $2 billion last year, agreed to drop the suit in exchange for Florendo's agreement to stop using her nickname in public. The company charged "unfair competition" in the suit and argued that it has used its trademark name since 1955, more than two decades longer than Sony Florendo.
Under the terms of a consent decree released last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Florendo has until Aug. 19 to change the name of her establishments to "Sony Florendo's," and get rid of all printed materials with the name "Sony" standing alone -- including advertisements, menus, napkins and stationery.
Sony (the Filipino immigrant) has until February 1988 to change the outdoor signs. The "Sony" must disappear altogether by March 19, 1991.
Sony (the electronics giant) sees the matter as a fundamental obligation to protect its good name, which, Florendo is quick to point out, isn't even a name, but an invented word.
"For 50 years, I have used this name. To them, Sony is a word. To me, Sony is my name. It is my personal identity." Born Resurreccion R. Florendo, her family nicknamed her "Sony" both as a contraction of her first name, and she said in a voice that belied the explanation, for her "sunny disposition."
But Sony Corp. feels much the same attachment to its corporate identity and, according to spokesmen, has pursued similar litigation in the past.
"Sony Corp., since 1946, when it was a fledgling company much like hers is now, has spent maybe $500 million in advertising to establish the Sony name and sell products with it," said Jason Farrow, vice president of Sony Corp. of America. "If people start using your trademark it is no longer yours."
Florendo claims Sony Corp. "harassed" her. "I am intimidated by a giant corporation with resources that I can't even think of." She said she spent about $10,000 on legal fees and could no longer afford to pursue the litigation.
"I tried to get justice. This is all the justice I could afford," she said.
The New York attorney representing Sony Corp., Ned W. Branthover, said, "There was no attempt on our part to increase her legal costs any more than necessary."
Farrow noted that while Sony's restaurants may not be big now, neither was McDonald's once. "I don't see it as fair or unfair. It's just what we had to do to protect a name we invested in," he said