ISP in Dispute With Sun Over Company Name

A Florida Internet service provider is taking on Sun Microsystems in federal court to defend the use of the name “Sunline.”

Involved in the tangle is Sun Coast Media Group, publisher of the Port Charlotte Sun Herald, a western Florida daily,and owner of Sunline, an ISP
with 5,000 subscribers. Sunline is also home to the newspaper’s Web site.

The Flordia company’s legal trouble began when Sunline applied to trademark its name. On Feb. 18, 1997 Sun Coast president Derek Dunn-Rankin received a letter from Sun’s attorney’s saying the name too closely resembled trademarks already owned by the computer maker, such as Sun Site, Sun
Express and Sunlink.

In the letter, Sun’s attorneys wrote that use of the Sunline name, given Sun’s extensive presence on the Internet “may cause confusion in the marketplace and thus potentially infringe upon Sun’s established trademark rights.”

In order to avoid having to defend against a lawsuit on Sun’s home turf in California, Dunn-Ranking said in an interview this week that he decided to strike first and sued Sun first over use of the Sunline name. Sun countersued in California but lost its bid to have the case moved there.

“They were just expecting me to roll over once I got that letter, but they don’t know me very well,” Dunn-Rankin said.

Sunline is not alone among the businesses that use the word “Sun” in their names.

Nearly 600 businesses and organizations, including at least 27 newspapers, have Web sites with “sun” in their names and in their Web domain names. Other sites include those of the Baltimore Sun and Sun, Inc. a South Carolina graphic arts firm.

Dunn-Rankin said the dispute is not over domain names, but over the right to use Sunline as the firm’s name. “We want to do business on the Internet as Sunline, and they thought that was too close to the names of some of their products,” he said. “There are only about 6,000 businesses with the word Sun in their names and several hundred of them happen to be in Florida.” There is no indication that Sun Microsystems is involved in similar disputes with any of the other firms.

Sunline and Sun Microsystems are set to try and mediate their dispute later this month. If that fails, the case would presumably to go trial. Having invested about $100,000 in the ISP side of the business, Sun Coast will fight the suit to its conclusion, Dunn-Rankin said.

Sun would not comment on the case, saying the company does not comment on ongoing litigation.

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