Hackensack attorney Ron Bienstock ’77 recently traveled to Geneva with his wife and daughter for an HWS Admissions Open House. While on campus, he visited Professor of Sociology Jim Spates and shared that he recently won a five-year lawsuit against Fender Guitars when the company tried to retroactively claim copyright on electric guitar and bass designs. Bienstock represented a large group of guitar manufacturers and retailers who asserted such a trademark on the designs would substantially harm the entire guitar industry.
Over the course of the past two years, Bienstock was the subject of numerous articles in New Jersey news and business publications, as well as national guitar trade publications and the alumni magazine of California Western School of Law, “Res Ipsa” for his role in the case. Often referred to as the “David” to Fender’s “Goliath,” Bienstock represents a variety of music industry clients and is himself a bass player who put himself through law school with his band.
In profiling him, “Res Ipsa” noted: “In his day job at Bienstock & Michael, he’s one of the industry’s most respected entertainment law and IP attorneys. In his spare time, he’s a talented bass player whose rock group, ‘The Suits,’ has appeared on various television shows including ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien.’ If that wasn’t enough, this past spring Bienstock, 53, won the biggest case of his life when he successfully represented 18 guitar manufacturers in stopping Fender Musical Instrument Corporation from trademarking three of its most popular guitar shapes more than a half century after it had created them.”
Bienstock explains in the article what the decision meant for the guitar industry, musicians and his own firm: “In addition to ensuring the survival of guitar manufacturers’ businesses and those jobs, it means musicians everywhere can continue to choose who they buy their guitars from and at competitive prices. I don’t even want to think about what guitar buying would have been like if Fender had grabbed a monopoly. The impact on our firm has been really positive with all the media and industry attention we’ve attracted. We were already well known in the business but I think we’ve gained added respect, and the publicity and the higher profile can’t be anything but beneficial for our firm.”
The full article is online.
Additionally, the December 2010 issue of Premier Guitar Magazine discusses the landmark win over Fender and features several quotes by Bienstock in an article titled “Shapes of Things: A Brief History of the Peculiar Behind-the-Scenes War Over Guitar Designs.”
Trademarking those shapes, “would have turned the entire guitar industry on its head,” the article quotes him. “You have companies that have been making guitars and basses in those shapes since the late ’50s. There was a visceral reaction.”
It went on to explain: “The worst-case scenario: a future in which Fender could shut down models some builders had been making for 25 years or insist on licensing fees. ‘None of these companies were saying these are shapes that they own,’ Bienstock adds. ‘They were just saying they are shapes [Fender] can’t stop me from making.'”
The full article with more details about the case and the landmark win is also available online.
Bienstock earned a B.A. in history from Hobart College and went on to earn his J.D. from California Western School of Law.