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Ford sues to use 'Futura'

Automaker fights national Pep Boys parts chain over rights to name for new model

By David Shepardson / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co.'s revival plans for the Futura marque have hit a speed bump.

The automaker is asking a federal judge to approve its use of the name Futura on a new sedan after a national auto parts chain accused the Dearborn automaker of infringing on its trademarked brand name for tires.

In April, Ford said it would build the Futura beginning in 2005, taking the name from the Ford Falcon Futura built between 1959 and 1962.

But in a July 9 letter to Ford, Philadelphia-based Pep Boys sought to block Ford from using the name. Pep Boys uses Futura on tires and other products.

"We trust that the failure to abide by its obligations was merely an oversight by Ford and now that the matter has been brought to your attention, Ford will promptly abandon any plans to use the Futura mark for a new sedan," Pep Boys lawyer Marsha Gentner wrote to Ford.

Ford filed suit Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit against Pep Boys. Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes said the company had no plans to abandon the Futura name and was confident of success.

"Futura is a name that Ford has used in the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s," Vokes said. "There's no confusion whatsoever between Ford Futura and their tires."

The name, Vokes noted, was also used in the 1970s and 1980s with Fairmont models.

The 2006 mid-size Futura sedan is a key element of Ford's product plan and will fill a gap between the Ford Focus and the larger Ford Five Hundred.

Ford said in its lawsuit that it is "in imminent jeopardy of being sued by Pep Boys for breach of contract."

It asked U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds to "declare Ford's use of the Futura mark does not infringe on any alleged rights of Pep Boys."

Pep Boys hasn't been formally served with the lawsuit and declined to comment, said the company's general counsel, Brian Zuckerman.

In 1995, Ford and Pep Boys settled a dispute over the Futura name after Ford applied for a patent to use the name on badges and insignia for cars.

Ford argues the 1995 deal allows it to use the Futura name on a new line of cars; Pep Boys said the plan is a violation of the agreement.

Ford has a pending trademark application to use the Futura name on automobiles. Pep Boys, which has 629 stores in 36 states including Michigan, first used the Futura trademark in 1989.
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