November 6, 1995
Web posted at: 3:25 p.m. EST
NEW YORK (CNN) -- An ugly family feud is pitting famed environmentalist Jacques Cousteau against his son, Jean-Michel. For 15 years, father and son worked side by side, educating the world about far off and exotic places. These days, the two don't even speak to each other.
Battle lines were drawn when Jean-Michel Cousteau opened a posh ecotourism resort in the Fiji Islands. He named it "Cousteau's" and charges $220 per person, per night. His famous father demanded a name change, arguing that people might think the pricy resort is linked to his non-profit Cousteau Society. Jacques Cousteau's attorney, Lee Steiner, said the elder Cousteau felt the resort was "just palming off, using the name. Jean-Michel is using his father's name and the name of the Cousteau Society for his financial benefit."
Jacques Cousteau filed suit in the Fiji Islands and San Francisco, demanding that Jean-Michel add his full name to all his business ventures. Trademark attorneys say the father has a strong case. "The question really is, will the public who sees the ads for the Cousteau Resort think they are going to a resort somehow connected with Jacques Cousteau," attorney Lawrence Ableman said.
Jacques Cousteau's lawyer says he has polls proving the public believes the Cousteau Society is affiliated with the Fiji resort. Further confusing the issue is a new CD-ROM on the Fiji Islands that Jean-Michel Cousteau is marketing by playing up the family name.
There is precedent for a name change: The Gucci's, Ernest and Julio Gallo, and the Lamborghini family all successfully filed legal action to keep relatives from using their trademark names.
Jean-Michel Cousteau wants to reconcile with his father. "I have never been hurt so badly by anyone. And it's the silence, the absence of communication that hurts even more so." However, he believes he has built up a reputation of his own. "He should be proud of what I am doing," he said. "I am putting into action what I learned from him, what I have fostered over all these years." The younger Cousteau has agreed to add his first name to the resort, but in small letters. That, says Jacques' attorney, is not enough to halt the lawsuit.
Jean-Michel Cousteau is 57, his father 85. Together they introduced people to the wealth of life under the sea. Now the pursuit of wealth is tearing them apart, and friends and observers say it is sad that after spending a life together, the two cannot find common ground.
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