Electronics giant finally beats a woman named Sony


It's been four years since "Big Sony vs. Little Sony" headlines appeared in local and international papers, highlighting the unseemly controversy between small Baltimore restaurateur Sony Florendo and giant Japanese electronics manufacturer Sony Corp.

But to Mrs. Florendo, owner of two Philippine-Asian restaurants and a catering operation bearing her name, the battle she fought in the U.S. District Court just a few blocks from her main office on Park Avenue is still very real.

Today, Mrs. Florendo must take the name "Sony" off the signs on her restaurants at Harborplace and Owings Mills, her banquet hall on Belair Road and her main office downtown. She says she is still struggling to decide the new name of the restaurant she has owned since 1982.

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe it will be S. R. Florendo or maybe just S. Florendo," she said yesterday, her voice choking at the thought of changing the restaurant's name from "something that has been mine since I was a child."

The name change is part of the deal Mrs. Florendo reached with Sony Corp. in 1987 to drop the $2.9 million lawsuit it had filed against her for alleged trademark infringement, unfair competition and deliberate confusion of consumers.

Originally, Mrs. Florendo's restaurants were called "Sony's." In response to the court order, she initially changed the name to "Sony Florendo's." She had until today to get rid of the "Sony" nickname altogether from all of her signs and advertising.

Mrs. Florendo has not yet ordered new signs and a new letterhead for her restaurants or decided how they will be designed.

"She is trying to put off the inevitable -- to think about other things," her husband, Gerardo Florendo, said.

Sony Corp.'s hard stance with a small entrepreneur is not unusual; the company makes a habit of defending its trademark aggressively. It has won infringement cases against businesses that sell everything from chocolate to bicycles.

But the Japanese manufacturer's actions have had a big effect on Mrs. Florendo, 54, who was born Juana Evelina Resurrecion Robles in Cabanatuan, the Philippines, a few years before World War II began.

The hardest times in her life "all have to do with the Japanese," Mrs. Florendo said, her head shaking in disbelief and her eyes welling with tears as she begins to tell a story she says she has never shared publicly.

When she was 4, Mrs. Florendo's father was taken prisoner by Japanese soldiers. He was picked up at a restaurant in Manila while he was having lunch, she said.

Her father was interrogated and tortured for 10 days, Mrs. Florendo said. She said he was about to be killed but was released after he was able to prove to his captors through a newspaper article that he was a judge.

"My grandfather had his spinal column smashed by Japanese and had to live as an invalid for the rest of his life. Cousins were slapped so hard on the side of their faces by the Japanese that they lost some of their hearing," Mrs. Florendo said.

At the age of 5, she had her "first negotiation with the Japanese," Mrs. Florendo recalled.

The Robles family owned one of the two pianos in their town. One day Japanese soldiers came and took the Robles' piano back to their barracks.

"I was able to convince a soldier to come and pick me up so I could still practice the piano," Mrs. Florendo recalled.

"That time I was able to negotiate, but with Sony Corp. there was no compromise because it had to do with money," Mrs. Florendo said.

Several years ago, Mrs. Florendo said, she wanted to deal with her hurt over the Sony Corp. experience by starting an organization to help small entrepreneurs engaged in expensive legal battles.

But Mrs. Florendo said she gave her idea up.

"It was very painful for me to keep remembering my experience. It made me very angry, though I try not to be," she said.

"But one thing I've learned from all this is that when you are honest about what you do, you can survive even the biggest fall," she said.

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