A courtroom gender war has broken out between the first garage in North America to feature all-female mechanics and a major company that is suing to protect its identity.
Mr. Lube, a chain of more than 100 outlets across the country, alleges that a feisty upstart - Ms. Lube - is hitching a ride on its well-known trademark.
In a statement of claim, Mr. Lube accused Ms. Lube of using its name to create a suggestive play on words that is designed to attract its customers.
However, Jessica Gilbank, the 37-year-old founder of Ms. Lube, accused Mr. Lube Thursday of attempting to bully her out of business by bankrupting her with legal costs.
"It is very representative of the machismo and the male chauvinism that exists in the trade, that they would want to do this to the very first all-female shop," Ms. Gilbank said.
"On principle alone, I am not comfortable rolling over on this," she said. "I'm prepared to be called the biggest idiot on the planet to be spending this much money fighting this when the easiest thing to do would be to just change everything."
Ms. Gilbank created Ms. Lube a year ago, after she noticed that female apprentices find it almost impossible to break into the male bastion of car repair.
"I thought it would be nice to create sort of an incubator situation where the environment was about mechanics and not about gender dynamics," she said. "In the automotive environment, guys tend to be real jokers who play practical jokes on each other and goof off. You are surrounded by this bubble of goofiness. Women want to read the instructions and do the job thoroughly and right."
Known officially as Ms. Lube by Mechanchik, the garage is located in Toronto's Little Italy neighbourhood. Ms. Gilbank hired seven mechanics, and had a student of water colour artist Alberto Vargas create a distinctive logo with a corporate mascot named Ms. Lube.
"I understand the connotation, but that's on purpose," she said. "It plays to that whole tits 'n' ass, pin-up calendar thing. It gives a connotation of, 'Oh, that's a little bit cheeky, that's quite bold.' The idea is to put some sense of fun into having your car fixed and not have it be such a drag."
Michael Andrews, a lawyer for Ms. Gilbank, said that the trademark was extremely successful in catching attention. "Jess is on a serious mission here," he said. "She wants to open up a non-traditional area more to women."
Trouble began to brew after Ms. Gilbank appeared on a CBC-TV show, Dragon's Den, in which participants present business plans that might draw investors. One of the judges on the program was Jim Treliving, co-owner of Mr. Lube. Instead of jumping at the opportunity to invest in a Ms. Lube chain, Mr. Treliving warned her on the air of impending trouble.
"I left there absolutely devastated," Ms. Gilbank said. Three months later, Mr. Lube sued her.
The automotive service giant is seeking $250,000 in punitive damages and an injunction to prevent Ms. Lube from continuing to use its name and trademark.
"The defendant has always known that the name Ms. Lube would call to mind the well-known Mr. Lube trade name and trademarks," the statement of claim said. "This was part of the business model, namely, to trade on the fame and reputation associated with Mr. Lube."
Mr. Andrews, a lawyer with the Ottawa firm of Andrews Robichaud, said that his client was quite willing to sit down and discuss the situation, but Mr. Lube preferred the typical male reaction of: "We're just going to take this one outside."
Trademark law involves far more than merely whether one name is similar or reminiscent of another, Mr. Andrews said. He noted that 1,687 trademarks in Canada use the word "Mr." An additional 500 companies - most of them car repair services - use the word "lube."
"The law recognizes that some marks are weaker or stronger than others," Mr. Andrews said. "The word 'lube' has been used throughout the industry to refer to lubrication businesses. ... No one can claim an exclusive right to it.
"There was never any intention on the part of Ms. Lube by Mechanchik to ride on the coattails of Mr. Lube."
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