The Gibson Vs Heritage guitars case has been settled with both guitar companies putting their own spin on the outcome, but the actual ruling suggests neither party has emerged victorious from the protracted legal battle. And what does it mean for Heritage guitars in the future?
As of yesterday's announcement (30 January) Gibson and Heritage have reached a settlement where each company will pay its own legal costs for the protracted case. The judgement also states "parties have agreed to dismissal of claims on the basis described below:
"Pursuant to the Federal Rule Of Civil Procedure… the Parties hereby jointly stipulate to the dismissal of all claims and counterclaims by the Parties against one another, with prejudice, and with each party bearing its attorneys' fees and costs."
A recap on how they got here is necessary: In May 2022 we reported on BandLab-owned Heritage Guitars' legal action against Gibson that had come in response to threats issued by the US company over alleged trademark infringement.
Although the Heritage brand was founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan by a small group of former Gibson employees in the 1980s, the relationship between the two companies reportedly changed following the 2016 acquisition in part by Vista Musical Instruments, a division of Caldecott Music Group (formerly BandLab Technologies), a Singapore-based conglomerate run by Meng Ru Kuok.
Back in 1991 Heritage had reached a settlement with Gibson that laid out an agreement in which Heritage could continue to making solid body and semi hollow guitars without infringing Gibson's designs. Following the BandLab / Caledecott acquisition, Heritage accused Gibson of threatening to take legal action regarding a number of Heritage body shapes and their similarity to Gibson designs. A trademark legal battle ensued with Gibson as the defendant.
Then in June 2022 a judge denied Gibson's motion to dismiss Heritage's Second Amendment case to introduce an antitrust aspect to the case that accused Gibson of attempting to monopolise aspects of the guitar market.
Caldecott Music Group also owns Singapore-based musical instruments retailer Swee Lee and the antitrust aspect came as a result of Gibson cancelling its contract with the them. Heritage alleged that the cancellation was done solely to punish Caldecott, while Heritage withdrew from the US retail market.
As expected, both companies responded to the dismissal in their own way.
"Gibson is pleased that the matter Heritage brought to Gibson has been dismissed," the US company said in a statement released yesterday (30 January).
"For 130 years, Gibson has invested in innovation and been at the forefront of guitar development and evolution. As the matter is now resolved, Gibson can move forward and focus on innovation with confidence. These investments and innovation are at the center of Gibson and are protected under Intellectual Property rights, commonly referred to as “IP.” Gibson’s unique designs are registered and Trademarked shapes that are the exclusive property of Gibson. Most recently, the United States Courts ruled to protect Gibson's intellectual property rights, upholding Gibson's long-established and well-recognised trademarks.
"Gibson guitar shapes are iconic and firmly protected for the past, present, and future."
Heritage was also keen to focus on the future in its own reaction.
“We are delighted that matters have been resolved and we can now focus on what really matters – carrying on the tradition of guitar craftsmanship and excellence at 225 Parsons Street,” said Meng Ru Kuok, CEO of Heritage Guitars and Caldecott Music Group.
“We are even more invigorated and committed to continuing to build the world’s finest American-made musical instruments for our community of artists and fans around the world.”
So business as usual for Heritage? After the end of potentially spiralling legal costs for both parties we wondered what it meant for the Kalamazoo company's builds in 2023 and beyond.
"We're delighted with the result and are back to being fully focused on building the world's finest American-made musical instruments at 225 Parsons Street, where it all began," Meng Ru Kuok reiterated to MusicRadar when we reached out to find out if there is a new agreement in place between the two companies. "Unfortunately there's nothing we can share about arrangements between the two companies as the terms of the settlement are confidential.
"We have an aggressive roadmap of new models and updates planned for the year ahead and absolutely no plans to change or discontinue any existing models," he added. "You can find the full list of guitars we produce at heritageguitars.com."
MusicRadar has reached out to Gibson for comment.