updated 9/25/2009 3:22:32 PM ET 2009-09-25T19:22:32

A federal lawsuit is simmering between two marketing companies — A Hundred Monkeys in California and 100 Monkeys in Wisconsin.

One specializes in public relations and the other helps clients come up with company names. Now, in a bit of "gorilla warfare," they're wrangling over their own corporate names.

In the lawsuit, A Hundred Monkeys Inc., based in Mill Valley, Calif., is accusing 100 Monkeys Inc., headquartered in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa, of trademark infringement.

Because the names sound so similar and the two companies are direct competitors, "customers and potential customers are likely to be confused into believing" the companies are related, the California company alleged in a lawsuit filed this week in Milwaukee.

The Wisconsin company disagrees, saying there is no infringement because the firms offer different services.

The West coast company wants its Midwest competitor to cut out the monkey business by changing its name and paying unspecified damages.

"You have no legitimate rights or interests in respect of the '100 Monkeys' name and (trade)mark," A Hundred Monkeys said in a cease-and-desist letter in May. "It is an obvious appropriation of the 'A Hundred Monkeys' (trade)mark with a different spelling."

The companies are in talks over the issue, said Mary Roberts, whose official title at 100 Monkeys is top banana.

"Honestly, we don't think there's an issue of infringement because we don't compete with this firm," she said. "We don't offer the same services."

Her company specializes in marketing services that include public relations and social media, she said. A Hundred Monkeys deals with company and product naming as well as branding strategies, according to its Web site.

A Hundred Monkeys has been using the name since 1992 and was granted a trademark in 1999, according to court documents. The Wisconsin company was founded in 1998 and adopted the 100 Monkeys name in 2006.

Both names apparently derive from a supposed phenomenon describing how individual behavior might spread to become part of the group's culture.

The so-called "100th monkey effect" asserts that individual abilities and knowledge spread slowly within a group at first. But when a critical mass — the presumed 100th monkey — acquires the skill, the awareness suddenly spreads to every member of the group.

Urban legend attributes the rapid spread to paranormal means, while marketers say they refer to the 100th monkey as the tipping point where enough early adopters have used a product that it finally becomes mainstream.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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