Drop the "Mustang Ranch" from the name of the most notorious, internationally known bordello, and what do you get?
Lance Gilman's World Famous Brothel will open July 1 inside the renovated World Famous Mustang Ranch building, complete with Italian courtyard, 30 rooms and 20 prostitutes. Because of ongoing litigation with another brothel owner, Gilman is restricted from using the trademark "Mustang Ranch" name on his new brothel. The signs advertising the brothel off Interstate 80 will stay covered.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided this week to affirm a lower court's ruling that Gilman cannot use the name until the trademark dispute is resolved.
"We were a little surprised about the ruling only because we thought that we'd have oral arguments," said Lara Pearson, an Incline Village lawyer representing David Burgess. He owns a Nevada state service mark registration for Mustang Ranch, which he uses for his brothel in Storey County. That brothel also operates under the trade name Old Bridge Ranch.
The court found the case suitable for affirmation without oral argument, according to a memorandum filed June 17.
"That's disappointing," Wild Horse brothel owner Gilman said Tuesday. "But it's a long road."
This long road started in 2003 when Gilman bought the Mustang Ranch property and its name on eBay for $145,000 from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The old brothel was carried in pieces by truck and helicopter to its new home beside the Wild Horse.
The original Mustang Ranch has been closed since the IRS seized it in 1999 after the conviction of the bordello's manager and its parent companies in a fraud and racketeering case. Owner Joe Conforte fled to Brazil to avoid tax charges more than 10 years ago.
That means Gilman won't be able to use "World Famous Mustang Ranch" on the brothel's opening day, despite a certificate from the BLM saying he owns the name.
Burgess contends that the feds abandoned the trademark when it owned the brothel. According to court documents, the mark was licensed to Burgess and he began using the mark in connection with his brothel business on April 15, 2003.
Late last year, both brothel owners attempted to file for business licenses using the Mustang Ranch name. The Storey County Commission decided to give the name to both parties - at least until a federal court rules otherwise.
Burgess filed a district court motion restricting Gilman from using the name until the court rules on who owns the trademark. Gilman appealed it, which is how the issue got to the Ninth Circuit.
"The court did affirm the district court's decision regarding the granting of the preliminary injunction," Gilman said. "This does not mean that the ninth circuit has ruled on the merits of the case, only that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the preliminary injunction."
So, on July 1, Gilman will "quietly turn the key, open the door and serve the public for a couple of months until we do some kind of large grand opening celebration."
The total restoration project is 35,000 square feet. The octagon-shaped parlor and fountain are parts of phase one, which is 20,000 square feet. The dome is 22 feet high and 65 feet across.
"The parlor is designed to have the feel and look of an Italian courtyard surrounded by a bistro and several facades that look like homes," he said.
The second phase, which includes 30 more rooms and four VIP suites, will be open by the end of the summer.
As for the trademark decision, both parties have requested summary judgments and are waiting for a judge to be assigned.
n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.