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Time cops! Fancy watch maker wages war against Rolex Deli • Brooklyn Paper

Time cops! Fancy watch maker wages war against Rolex Deli

Shawqu Ali’s Fort Greene shop is called the Rolex Deli — but now the makers of the fancy watches that bear the same name are threatening to take him to the cleaners if he doesn’t change the name. By the way, Ali no longer wears a Rolex!
Photo by Paul Martinka

It was a matter of time!

High-rolling watchmaker Rolex has sued Fort Greene’s beloved Rolex Deli — which is best known for its $5.99 chicken subs, not $6,500, diamond-encrusted Submariners — to force it to change its name.

But the owner of the Fulton Street bodega, which opened only four months ago, is vowing to fight back.

“What they’re doing isn’t right,” said Shawqu Ali, a father of seven. “There’s a difference between a sandwich and a watch. They’re just trying to ruin somebody’s life.”

The Swiss company filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in Manhattan federal court this week, demanding unspecified damages and the destruction of all Rolex Deli signage and promotional materials — a redo that Ali claims would cost $25,000, almost enough for a Rolex Yachtmaster timepiece.

The watch company disputes the notion that it is ruining Ali’s life, but, rather is fighting to avoid diluting “the distinctiveness of the Rolex trademark.”

And the company, which has made watches for czars, presidents and Sean Connery years, said its suit would prevent its potential customers to get the false impression that the deli is in some way affiliated with the luxury brand.

Customers — of the deli, not the watch company — think that’s ridiculous.

“They don’t sell watches, they sell bagels and coffee – tell me how is this going to affect Rolex?” said Joey Dema, a regular customer. “It shouldn’t be a big deal. If they sold watches, it would be different.”

But a Rolex lawyer disputed that notion, saying that a trademark is a company’s most valuable asset.

“Trademarks represent years of investment in a brand name and they have to be protected,” said Brian Brokate, a partner at Gibney, Anthony & Flaherty.

This isn’t the only small business Rolex is going after — it also filed a suit this week against a Manhattan-based tech firm for their real estate listings database called “R.O.L.E.X.”

The deli — whose awning says “grilled sandwiches, coffee, beer, soda” — had its name approved by the State Division of Corporations before he opened.

“There’s a list of factors the court looks at, but I doubt the watch company’s argument will hold up,” said one Brooklyn lawyer, who specializes in trademark law but asked not to be named. “Still, it will be quite expensive for the sandwich shop to oppose them.”

In the meantime, Ali — who owns a couple of Rolex watches, but has eschewed them for a cheaper Guess timepiece since his legal troubles began — says he’s looking for a lawyer.

“I used to like Rolex, but this is making me hate their brand,” he said.

Reach reporter Kate Briquelet at kbriquelet@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511.

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