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Kielbasa rivalry heats up with trademark infringement suit

John Vishnefski, owner of Tarnowski’s Kielbasa Inc., alleges his business has suffered because of the unaffiliated Tarnowski Bros. Kielbasa food truck.
The Tarnowski Bros. Kielbasa food truck is alleged to be a trademark violation.

The owner of an award-winning Nanticoke kielbasa shop has filed a federal lawsuit alleging a competitor is illegally infringing on the business’s trademarked name.

John T. Vishnefski, owner of Tarnowski’s Kielbasa Inc. at 579 E. Main St., alleges in the complaint that Nanticoke resident Mark Tarnowski is violating his trademark by running an unaffiliated business called Tarnowski Bros. Kielbasa at 14 E. Union St.

In his complaint, Vishnefski notes that his brick-and-mortar shop has won numerous awards for its products, including taking first prize in the smoked kielbasa contest last year at the Plymouth Alive Kielbasa Festival.

“Mark Tarnowski owns a food trailer which he calls ‘Tarnowski Bros. Kielbasa,'” Vishnefski wrote. “He intentionally confuses customers by using this name.”

The complaint says that under Vishnefski’s ownership, his business first produced kielbasa under the name Tarnowski’s Kielbasa in November 2011. Vishnefski subsequently applied for a trademark in November 2017 and the name was registered in September 2018, the complaint says.

The name is an “important and valuable business asset,” and Tarnowski’s use of a similar name for products Vishnefski cannot control has caused unfair competition and a loss of business, the complaint alleges.

“Mark Tarnowski’s actions have diluted the name ‘Tarnowski’s Kielbasa,’ misrepresented his product in relation with distribution and advertising, and injured the business reputation of John T. Vishnefski,” Vishnefski wrote in the complaint.

Vishnefski originally filed the complaint himself, but is now represented by Wilkes-Barre attorney William L. Byrne, according to court records.

The suit seeks a permanent injunction blocking Tarnowski from using the name.

In an answer to the complaint filed on behalf of Tarnowski, Pittston attorney Thomas J. Killino denies that the similar name has harmed Vishnefski’s business and seeks dismissal of the lawsuit.

“It is specifically denied that there is any confusion as to the source of products between the parties and consumers. It is further denied that (Tarnowski) misrepresented his product in relation with distribution and advertising,” Killino wrote. “(Tarnowski) operates a business founded under the name of the owner, (himself), that is profitable in its own right and in no way is confused with, competes with, infringes upon, or in any way is harmful to (Vishnefski’s) business.”

In a Facebook post this week, Tarnowski Bros. Kielbasa publicly responded to the lawsuit.

“This is our family name! Mark and Mike Tarnowski. Our father always told us ‘Don’t be afraid to use your name,'” the post read. “We appreciate your business and will continue to provide you with great tasting kielbasi.”

The matter is currently scheduled for a case management conference before Magistrate Judge Joseph F. Saporito Jr. on April 27.

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