It was perhaps inevitable. Sony is now officially suing both Bridgestone and the company owned by Kevin Butler actor Jerry Lambert over Lambert's appearance in a Bridgestone ad which promoted a Nintendo tie-in deal. The gist is that Lambert's involvement, after his long-standing promotional portrayal of a fictional Sony executive, consitutes IP infringement.
The ad in question (opens in new tab) turned up online early last month, as part of an ongoing Bridgestone campaign Lambert has been involved in for some time. The problem came when Bridgestone set up a customer rewards scheme which in part offered a free Wii to buyers of certain tyres, leading Lambert to be seen onscreen playing Mario Kart.
Sony is suing for IP infringement, and has issued the following statement (opens in new tab):
"Sony Computer Entertainment America filed a lawsuit against Bridgestone and Wildcat Creek, Inc. on September 11. The claims are based on violations of the Lanham Act, misappropriation, breach of contract and tortious interference with a contractual relationship. We invested significant resources in bringing the Kevin Butler character to life and he’s become an iconic personality directly associated with PlayStation products over the years. Use of the Kevin Butler character to sell products other than those from PlayStation misappropriates Sony’s intellectual property, creates confusion in the market, and causes damage to Sony."
Given the wording, it seems that Sony's chances of winning this one will seemingly depend on its ability to prove that Lambert was playing Kevin Butler in the offending Bridgestone ad, rather than simply a character who looks a lot like Kevin Butler (which would have been hard to avoid, given that he has Kevin Butler's face). Though logically that might also raise the issue of why "the Kevin Butler character" being in straight Bridgestone ads previous to this wasn't an issue. Sony's reaction is of course completely understandable, but as for the legal argument? We'll see.