Archive for the ‘alcohol beverages generally’ Category
I am thinking this may be the best label ever, about lawyers. If I am not mistaken, that is a garden-variety lawyer, right below “Welcome, Trademark Attorneys!” and right above the briefcase. The lawyer just happens to be wearing a pink shirt, white suit, and closely resembles a werewolf.
It all started when Clown Shoes beer company got label approval for a Vampire Slayer beer in 2011. It is important to note that this beer claims to be made with “holy water” and “vampire killing stakes.”
In short order, the company that controls various VAMPIRE-related trademarks, pounced, and pushed Clown Shoes to cease and desist from using VAMPIRE terminology. Here is an example of a recent label approval, for a wine marketed by the company that controls the VAMPIRE mark. Clown Shoes explains:
Vampire Brands and TI Beverage Group, connected companies out of California that primarily market vampire themed wine, were suing us. They came to market six months after Vampire Slayer began distribution with a beer made in Belgium called Vampire Pale Ale, but they filed a trademark application prior to our distribution. Their position was that our use of the name Vampire Slayer was harming their ability to sell Vampire Pale Ale, literally costing them money.
Clown Shoes was not amused, and expressed its dismay on the label above. In addition to the not-so-flattering imagery, the label also says: “Do we need the undead and trademark attorneys too? Clown Shoes says ‘No, Die Monsters, Die!’ Forces of darkness brought about a change in the name of this beer. …” Clown Shoes caved in because:
we felt that we stood an excellent chance of winning a court battle. Then we found out that litigation could cost between $300,000 to $400,000. … Ummmm… that sounds like stabbing ourselves in the face to cure foot pain. … A settlement, the terms of which I am not at liberty to disclose, was reached with [Vampire Brands] that licenses Clown Shoes to use the name Vampire Slayer. I can say that based on all factors, the Vampire Slayer name will soon be discontinued, despite the licensing agreement.
All of this just goes to show that nobody should mess with vampires, going into a trademark dispute without some protection, or the attorney at Vampire Brands. A good article about the dispute is here. Volokh has some other law-related labels here. And a good, recent, other lawyer-related label is right here.
The New Jersey Law Journal recently featured Lehrman Beverage Law in a story about the growth of craft beer producers, craft spirits producers, and the law firms that have sprung up to support them. An excerpt of the story is here (the full version is here and requires registration). We are pleased to report, further, that our firm typically has at least five or six professionals working directly on alcohol beverage matters in a typical day. This particular article highlights Dan, who is a trademark and beer lawyer; John, who is an avid home brewer and handles a range of alcohol beverage issues; and Robert (who is not sure whether to be thrilled or mortified as he enters his 27th year handling legal issues for beer, wine and spirits companies around the world).
The U.S. Supreme Court, on January 10, 2014, agreed to hear Pom’s argument that Coke’s fruit beverage labels (such as the one at right) are misleading. The excellent FDA Law Blog has good coverage of the controversy here. Coke’s Minute Maid product only has a tiny amount of pomegranate juice — less than 0.5% — and so Pom (rather than the government) argues that this is misleading especially inasmuch as the labels show pictures of pomegranates.
This is a classic false advertising case. Pom and Coca-Cola compete directly in the market for pomegranate juices. Pom sells juices that—as purchasers would naturally expect—overwhelmingly contain actual pomegranate juice, which is sought by healthconscious consumers. Pom’s products include a pomegranate-blueberry juice. Coca-Cola sells and aggressively markets its competing “POMEGRANATE BLUEBERRY” juice, which it colors a deep purple and sells with a label containing a large image of each fruit. … Coca-Cola’s misleading label causes consumers to believe that the juice actually contains significant amounts of those fruits when in fact it contains only trivial amounts: 0.3% pomegranate juice and 0.2% blueberry juice. … Pom introduced survey evidence showing that consumers are in fact seriously misled.
Pom also quotes a key part of the government’s brief: “Further, the ‘FDA does not approve juice labels, and its failure to initiate an enforcement action cannot be construed as such an approval.’” Other juicy tidbits courtesy of Pom include: FDA and the FDC Act “sets a ‘floor’—not a ceiling—on federal regulation of labels.” Pom explains the sweeping importance of this case, and why it is so ripe for review:
Even if it were limited to food products, the ruling below grants tens of thousands of food and juice producers sweeping immunity with respect to countless products from liability under the Lanham Act for even knowingly misleading consumers. … The government recognizes that the court’s “deference to FDA’s available but unexercised authority would arguably preclude a Lanham Act challenge to the label of any food,” including “the many foods that FDA’s regulations do not specifically address at all.” … As the GAO has confirmed, the FDA “generally does not address misleading food labeling because it lacks the resources to conduct the substantive, empirical research on consumer perceptions.’”
By contrast, Coke not surprisingly argues “the FDA has adequate resources to regulate the content of food and juice labels.” Coke further argues:
whether a multi-fruit juice name or label is deceptive is not only within the FDA’s expertise, but is a topic that the FDA has already addressed in detailed and specific regulations. … As the United States correctly observes, the regulation “reflect[s] the agency’s balance of competing considerations in a specific setting that could easily be upset by the intrusion of a general private remedy such as that provided under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act.”
Getting deep into the nitty gritty of the labels at issue and the rules, Coke proudly proclaims “Here, the letters ‘FLAVORED BLEND OF 5 JUICES’ comply with this specific regulation because, as is clear from the image …, they are more than one-half the height of the words ‘POMEGRANATE BLUEBERRY.’” Coke claims it is a big (“hyperbolic”) exaggeration to say FDA lacks sufficient resources to regulate food labels.
If Pom wins this battle, it will seem to be another sign that the government, step by step, as it gains powers in some areas, continues to relinquish power in other areas, to allow large segments of statutory and agency mandates to be effectively privatized (or libertarianized). For example, as here, Pom and other Coke competitors would become the reviewers of Coke’s labels every bit as much or more compared to what FDA might have done in the past. This case could have enormous implications far beyond FDA labels, and could extend all the way over to TTB labels, TTB formulas, excise taxes, TTB permits, to almost every area that alcohol beverage regulators have firmly controlled in the past. In other news, this case provides a wonderful forum for Pom to beat up on Coke, and remind everyone that Pom has more juice, up and down the U.S. court system, year after year (since at least 2008). I wonder how the cost of this lawsuit compares to or relates to an old-fashioned ad campaign in the paid media.
From our perspective, working with thousands of labels and hundreds of such questions (from the trivial to the weighty) on a yearly basis (as opposed to an appellate litigator or a judge dealing with this from time to time when it flares up big) it seems clear that such tricky questions will inevitably get “litigated.” The only question is whether they will get litigated in an agency proceeding (as has been common in the past), the media, amongst lawyers battling apart from a court or agency proceeding, or in the courts (as was fairly rare in the past). To the extent that Pom wins, we can expect a huge shift from the first to the last.
We try to stay on the lookout for good and serious patents related to alcohol beverages. A few good ones are here. Today, we wanted to take a look at the ones that seem even less serious and a bit more, frothy. Dan Christopherson is an experienced trademark lawyer, and a registered patent lawyer, and Dan located a few good examples as below. Dan explained, “With all of the bad press coming out lately reporting craft brewers suing each other for allegedly infringing their intellectual property rights, we thought it might be a good idea to try to lighten the mood a bit.” With that in mind, here are a few humorous beer-related patent applications Dan came across:
- “Tooth Protector for Beverage Bottle and Beverage Bottle Enclosure” – US Patent Application No. 2012/0225166 by Krag David Hopps. I get as excited as the next guy/girl when I crack open a bottle of craft beer. That said, I have, to date, been able to temper my excitement enough to avoid crashing into and injuring my incisors with a beer bottle. Unfortunately for those individuals who have not shared in my good fortune, to quote Mr. Hopps, “No device has heretofore been available to protect a person’s teeth when he/she is drinking from a glass bottle.” This device, shown on the left, literally shields a beer drinker’s teeth from a beer bottle while drinking from the bottle. Mr. Hopps’ invention is sure to bring us into the golden age of bottle consumption safety. Good news for those of you with drinking problems.
- “Chewing gum with containing ethanol flavors“ - US Patent Application No. 2013/0034625 by David L. Ross. It is truly unfortunate that this patent application apparently does not include any images because I would love to see what this invention looks like. Mr. Ross has invented a beer flavored gum wrapped in a beer mug/bottle/keg shaped packaging “that encloses between 0.01 milliliters and 2 milliliters of alcoholic beverage [ethanol] in at least one cavity inside the gum.” Our rough calculations show that you’d have to chew at least 18 pieces of gum to get about the same alcohol content as a single bottle of a popular macrobrew. Better a sore jaw than a sore liver, I guess.
- “Netting system for drinking games” – US Patent Application No. 20120071278 by Andrew Mansfield. We agree with Mr. Mansfield’s sentiment that “a need exists for a cheap, easy to manufacture and an easy to use system that prevents ping pong balls from hitting the surrounding floor during game play.” As Mr. Mansfield points out, the previous attempt to clean up these games by providing wash cups to clean playing balls before throwing them into an opponents’ beer glass “is inefficient and often ineffective as the wash cups become dirty and contaminated from repeated contact with dirty ping pong balls as the game progresses. In addition, research has shown that the wash cups still hold bacteria, such as E. coli.” Without going through Mr. Mansfield’s undoubtedly comprehensive research results, we are relieved to hear that hygiene-conscious partygoers will no longer be left out of beer pong games.
- “Beer Pong Table with Cooling System” United States Patent No. 8,235,389, issued to Big Dog Pong, LLC. Big Dog Pong also took great strides to improve the great sport of Beer Pong with this invention. A true visionary, they recognize that playing beer pong on kitchen tables, closet doors, and other homemade tables can “unfairly affect the game” and that “beverages may become warm during play.” Big Dog Pong accomplishes all of this by placing a series of cooling areas into the table top surface of a standardized beer pong table.
We hope this post inspires you toward some frivolous or not so frivolous inventions of your own, or at least provides a welcome respite from the serious side of law, business, and intellectual property.
All the while you tend your vines, and the U.S. market for the fruits thereof, your precious brand names may be vulnerable to poaching, in the world’s most populous country. Lindsey Zahn points out the risks in a recent article in the Cornell International Law Journal Online. The article is entitled “No Wine-ing: The Story of Wine Companies and Trademark in China” and it was published on November 4, 2013. It points out the risks and opportunities, and provides a good overview of how China treats wine trademarks, and how that differs from the U.S. system. Lindsey is a lawyer specializing in wine law and food law, and she is a frequent writer on such issues at winelawonreserve.com.
In the article, Lindsey explains:
China follows a “first-to-file” rule for trademark registration. This means that the first person to file a trademark application with the China Trademark Office (“CTMO”) is usually granted the registration rights. Prior use of a mark in commerce generally affords little or no protection to a trademark applicant in China. By contrast, the United States Patent and Trademark Office considers whether the applicant is the first to use or intends to use the mark in commerce.
If a business even contemplates entering the Chinese market, it is generally recommended that a trademark application be filed before any product or service is present in China’s market. Failure to file trademark registration can allow third parties—referred to as brand “squatters”—to register the mark. This presents many problems: the prior registration of the mark can block the true brand owner from registration or force the owner to change its name to enter the Chinese market. Other times, a brand owner is forced to pay exorbitant fees to the third party registrant in order to procure the rights to the mark.