Spearmint Rhino Sues Peppermint Hippo

LAS VEGAS—The parent companies of two popular strip clubs in Las Vegas are now locked in a federal lawsuit over trademark violations as the owner of the Spearmint Rhino alleges a violation by Peppermint Hippo's owner

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Chang's Dynasty LLC founded the Peppermint Hippo with inspiration from the animated sitcom "South Park." In the show and the franchise's video games, the main characters interact with an Italian crime family that runs a club known as the "Peppermint Hippo" as a front business to mask illegal acts.

"We just thought it was hilarious,” said Alan Chang, the founder and chief executive officer of Peppermint Hippo's parent company, in a 2022 interview for the Review-Journal.

The Emmy-winning "South Park," created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, characterized the fictional variation of the club as a “sleazy strip joint" whose proprietors are part of the "biggest crime syndicate" in all of Colorado. Chang explained that this was the inspiration: “That’s what I’ll call it.”

It is worth noting that Chang served as director of business development for Spearmint Rhino from 2005 to 2015 before leaving the company. 

Despite this nod to the series, the parent companies of Spearmint Rhino—Spearmint Rhino Companies Worldwide, Inc., and affiliated firm K-Kel, Inc.—believe that Chang is in violation of their trademarks, according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.

Spearmint Rhino argues that Chang chose that name and design trademark “with the intention to create an association with the Spearmint Rhino marks," and profit off of the "fame" of the Spearmint Rhino. 

"Defendants continue to offer and provide adult entertainment services under the Peppermint Hippo designations, and continues to obtain substantial profits thereby from their intentional and willful acts of trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution," the plaintiffs argue in a filing with the court.

Counsel representing Chang and Peppermint Hippo allege that the Spearmint Rhino brought the lawsuit in as an anti-competitive business tactic.

"There is no likelihood of customer confusion between plaintiff's marks and defendants' marks. Further, there is no dilution of [the] plaintiffs' Spearmint Rhino marks, which are not 'famous' within the meaning of the Lanham Act," notes defense counsel, citing a federal statute that serves as the primary vehicle for regulating trademarks.

Under the act, a mark that is classified as "famous" is a mark that can be widely recognized by the general public of the U.S. as a designation of a mark's owner. In simple terms, a trademark owner who believes their mark was infringed upon due to it being "famous" can bring action against the alleged violator. 

According to the show's Fandom wiki, a fictional depiction of Peppermint Hippo first appeared in the "South Park" series in 2003. Other fictional depictions of the Peppermint Hippo include an episode aired in 2006 and on the franchise's second RPG video game, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, published in 2017.

Peppermint Hippo clearly parodied the Spearmint Rhino, but there was never a point of contention between fictional and real material.
"The strip club war is on! We won’t let this ridiculous lawsuit discredit us,” Chang told the Review-Journal. “In the wild, hippos and rhinos coexist. Why not Vegas?”