Did you know that in 1968 in Mattoon, Illinois, a small restaurant called “Burger King” won a lawsuit against the giant fast food chain of the same name because they had trademarked the name first. Today, there are no Burger Kings legally allowed within 20 miles if the Mattoon location.
Things went smoothly for the business for several years until the Hootses learned of the Burger King in Florida and that company’s plans for Illinois. The Hootses and their lawyer thought their state trademark, which was in use before the Florida chain was started, gave them exclusive rights to the “Burger King” name all over the state. However, the Florida chain opened its first Illinois restaurant in Skokie in 1961, and by 1967, the chain had 50 restaurants in Illinois, and the Hootses felt they needed to take action.
The Hootses filed suit in state court, and the Florida company responded with a federal suit: Burger King of Florida, Inc. v. Hoots (1968). The Hootses had attorney Harlan Heller of Mattoon whereas the president of the Burger King of Florida appeared with at least six lawyers, according to Betty Hoots. The case went to the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, whose decision still stands as an important interpretation of the Lanham Act.
The court ruled that, because of the federal trademark registration, and because the federal law indicated priority over state law, Florida’s Burger King had rights to the name almost everywhere in the United States, including in Illinois, except in the Mattoon area, where the Hoots family had prior actual use. As a result of the case, the Hootses cannot use the name “Burger King” outside of the Mattoon area, and the Florida chain cannot use the name in the Mattoon area. The district court had previously decided that the Mattoon market area was a circle with a radius of 20 miles (32 km) and centered on the Hootses’ restaurant. Thus, the closest Burger King for the Florida chain is located approximately 25 miles (40 km) north of Mattoon in Tuscola, Illinois. As of 2012, the Florida chain has 319 locations in Illinois outside the 20-mile Mattoon area.
Betty Hoots said that Burger King Corp. offered the Hootses $10,000 for the right to operate a Burger King restaurant within the 20 mile Mattoon area, but the Hootses declined.