Con Edison's suit, filed in the U.S. Southern District Court of New York, alleges electric utility deregulation and competition will cause customers to be confused over the use of Edison.
There are many more Edisons, of course, including Boston Edison, Commonwealth Edison in Chicago, Detroit Edison and even the industry's trade group, the Edison Electric Institute.
Edison International is the relatively new name of SEC Corp., the holding company of Southern California Edison Co. and five other utilities with similar names; it changed its name in January 1996.
"That's like saying Philips owns the word 'lightbulb,' " said Mike Rucker, principal of Second Opinion, Atlanta, and a 10-year veteran of utility marketing. Mr. Rucker said Edison International's aggressive marketing campaign is probably the reason that company is being targeted by Con Ed.
The suit may be a symptom of the larger problem of a lack of marketing and advertising sophistication in the newly competitive $200 billion utility market.
The industry is going from owning markets as a monopoly to figuring out how to fight competitors, and struggling with the transition. California will be the first big test of deregulation when its markets open Jan. 1, 1998.
Utilities will spend an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion collectively in advertising and marketing in future years, observers report.
Edison International is still reviewing the suit and allegations, but a spokesman said "the suit is without merit," adding that it has been operating under the Edison name "for 100 years."
The spokesman said the company went through the trademark process and now "owns" Edison International. "If Con Edison wants to call themselves 'Edison anything else,' they're welcome to it just like everyone else," he said.
Con Edison did not return phone calls.
"This shows that utility companies are clearly becoming concerned about their names," said Wally Mealiea, manager of customer research and advertising for Edison Electric Institute. "Branding is something that they are spending time