Ferrero Files Infringement Suit Against Brooklyn Crêperie Over NUTELLA Trademark

The Ferrero Group, which manufactures the well-known NUTELLA brand hazelnut and cocoa spread, filed a trademark infringement suit against a Brooklyn crêperie over its use of allegedly confusingly-similar marks.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that crêperie, GCAS Cafe, “specializes in offering food and drinks which use Ferrero’s NUTELLA brand hazelnut and cocoa spread as the most prominent ingredient.”  The cafe had been using the term “Nutelleria” in connection with signage at its cafe, domain names of websites (www.NutelleriaNY.com, www.NutelleriaMia.com, and www.NutelleriaLA.com), and social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Ferrero alleges that when its attorneys were negotiating with GCAS’s attorneys about use of “that mark, the cafe changed from using “Nutelleria” to “Nuteria” on its signs and on the internet.  See, e.g., www.nuteriaNY.com and facebook.com/NuteriaNY.   Although GCAS no doubt believed this switch would satisfy Nutella, it was mistaken.

In the complaint, Ferrero contends that consumers who type in the term “Nutelleria” in Google or type in the “Nutelleria” domain names are redirected to the current “Nuteria” websites and, thus, “the term NUTELLERIA functions as a mark to direct traffic to the GCAS cafe.”  Ferrero further contends that (a) the “Nuteria” mark is displayed with “Nu” presented differently than “teria” to convey that consumers should pronounce “Nu” the same way as in “Nutella” and (b) the “prominent display” of Nutella posters and jars at the cafe is such that it creates the impression that there’s a “connection between GCAS Cafe and Ferrero or the NUTELLA” trademarks.

In light of these and other concerns, Ferrero asserts claims for trademark infringement and trademark dilution under federal law, a claim under New York state’s anti-dilution and unfair trade practices statute, and a common law claim for unfair competition.

This case is intriguing because GCAS is clearly a fan and promotor of Nutella and the parties’ interests are generally aligned.  The problem, of course, is that GCAS created a new mark — Nutelleria — that echoed and called-to-mind the NUTELLA mark.  But for reasons unknown, negotiations between the parties broke down when GCAS unilaterally (as alleged by Ferrero) changed the mark to “Nuteria” which Ferrero does not specifically allege as being confusingly similar to Nutella.

Red Bull Facing Criticism for Trademark Opposition Against “Old Ox Brewery” Marks

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A short while ago I posted a piece on the power of social media with respect to certain IP disputes.  There is a new dispute that might serve as a powerful footnote on this issue.

On January 28, 2015, Red Bull GmbH filed a Notice of Opposition in the USPTO against applications for the OLD OX BREWERY and the OX Logo marks, as shown above.  Red Bull alleges that its famous energy drinks and other beverages will be confused with the beverages sold by Old Ox Brewery under the foregoing marks.  In particular, Red Bull alleges that:

An “ox” and a “bull” both fall within the same class of “bovine” animals and are virtually indistinguishable to most consumers. In addition, an ox is a castrated bull.

Applicant intends to use its name and logos on other Class 32 beverages,namely soft drinks for non-beer drinkers….

The Class 32 goods on which Applicant claims it has an intent to use in conjunction with Applicant’s OLD OX Marks include and are closely related to, used for the same or similar purposes, and/or are or will be advertised and promoted to and directed at the same trade channels, the same purchasers, and are or will be used in the same environment as Opposer Red Bull’s products and related goods and services.

Simultaneous use of Applicant’s OLD OX Marks on the Class 32 goods … and Opposer Red Bull’s RED BULL and Bull Logo Marks on its goods and related services … is likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception among purchasers, users and the public, thereby damaging Red Bull.

The critical allegations are thus that consumers will confuse or conflate the terms “Bull” and “Ox” and that the relevant beverages are related or overlap.

In a response posted to its website and social media on February 8th, Old Ox Brewery posted a public letter to Red Bull which stated as follows, in relevant part:

We are a small startup brewery in Ashburn, Virginia. We’re family-run, we love beer, and we love our community. For reasons that we cannot understand, you have attempted to strong arm us into changing our identity for the last 10 months because you believe folks might mistake Old Ox beer for Red Bull energy drinks. We respectfully disagree. The only similarity between our two products is that they are both liquids. You make non-alcoholic (but very extreme) energy drinks. We make delicious (but laid-back) beer. Our consumers are looking for two distinctly different experiences from our respective products.

Basically you are holding us hostage with a list of demands that, if agreed to, would severely limit our ability to use our brand. Demands like, never use the color red, silver or blue; never use red with any bovine term or image; and never produce soft drinks. Do you own the color red? What about fuchsia, scarlet, crimson, or mauve? Are you planting your flag in the color wheel and claiming those shades for Red Bull? Do you claim exclusive rights to all things bovine? Do you plan to herd all heifers, cows, yaks, buffalo, bison, and steer into your intellectual property corral, too?

When we refused to succumb to your demands, you responded by filing a formal opposition to not just our trademark but to the very name Old Ox Brewery. Way to step on our American dream. You say you are protecting your intellectual property rights, but your claim, in our opinion, is Red Bulls**t.

…. Can you honestly look at our brand and say, “this is a threat to my image?” We don’t think you can. Given that, we repeat our offer: We agree NEVER to produce energy drinks. In exchange, we are asking for one simple thing: Leave us alone. Drop this trademark dispute.

In addition, Old Ox has recently started a change.org petition that has so far collected over 1,600 supporters.

The broader news media has picked up on this dispute and, so far, they are generally siding with Old Ox.  For example, the Washington Post’s article is titled “Red Bull Wants to Rename an Ashburn Brewery, Because an Ox Looks Like a Bull.”  Whether Red Bull persists with the opposition or decides to moderate its demands, remains to be seen.

“Health and Safety Arguments over GMO Labeling” – My article for Food Safety Magazine

It was my pleasure to author an article for Food Safety Magazine titled “Health and Safety Arguments over GMO Labeling,” which focuses on the Grocery Manufacturers of America’s lawsuit to prevent Vermont’s GMO-labeling law from going into effect.  Please see here.

My Article for Food Manufacturing: “2015 Could Be Breakthrough Year for Strategies to Mitigate and Defend Against Food Labeling Challenges”

Please see my article for FoodManufacturing.com titled “2015 Could Be Breakthrough Year for Strategies to Mitigate and Defend Against Food Labeling Challenges.”

Lagunitas “IPA” Lawsuit and Lessons in Social Media

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When determining whether to file a lawsuit, the cost-benefit analysis must always include public reaction, which these days plays out almost instantly on social media.  But predicting public reaction is quite imprecise.  Case in point is Lagunitas Brewing Co.’s recent lawsuit against Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., which was filed on Monday, January 12th and then voluntarily dismissed on Thursday, January 15th.

In the lawsuit, Lagunitas claimed that Sierra Nevada infringed numerous trademarks registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for several design-plus-word marks pertaining to its India Pale Ale, all of which feature  the words “Lagunitas IPA” that are variations on the above.   None of the registrations, however, are for the word mark “IPA” standing alone and many other brewers have trademark registrations for names of beer that include “IPA.” Recognizing this fact, Lagunitas further alleged that, “[w]hile other brewers have adopted the shorthand parlance of “IPA” to market their India Pale Ales, only Lagunitas is identified with the large, bold, black, centralized “IPA” lettering ….”

Claims for trademark infringement, unfair trade practices and unjust enrichment were alleged against Sierra Nevada premised on the following allegations:

[Sierra Nevada’s] proposed design uses all capital, large, bold, black “IPA” lettering in a font selection that is remarkably similar to the iconic Lagunitas design and, indeed, is the central and most prominent feature of the new Sierra Nevada design, emulating the iconic Lagunitas Family  of IPA Trademarks.  This proposed design even uses the kerning between the “P” and the “A” characters that is distinctive to the Lagunitas Family of IPA Trademarks….  Significantly, Sierra Nevada now appears to be making a radical departure from its traditional label designs which feature “IPA” lettering in much smaller text, usually preceded by another term (i.e., “Fresh Hop,” “Extra,” “Rye”, “Red,” etc.) of the same text size and which feature outdoor/nature scenes. Instead, … the proposed Hop Hunter IPA design is strikingly different from its prior imagery used with its India Pale Ales.

Lagunitas further alleged that the likelihood of confusion as to origin increases when the product is viewed at some distance and, moreover, that there’s a high likelihood of confusion as to “sponsorship or approval” between the companies because “Sierra Nevada is well-known in the craft brew industry for its collaboration with other brewers.”

But when the filing the lawsuit became publicized, Lagunitas was harshly criticized because it seemed focused on protecting the acronym “IPA”, which describes a type of beer.  As noted by CNBC:

The beer battle fell flat on social media.

“Really – Is this necessary?” tweeted @FW_Brewmaster.

“This is ridiculous, @lagunitasbeer should be ashamed,” added @mattmaceachem.

As for the logos creating confusion among consumers, @BeerMagazine tweeted, “The only thing confusing is this,” referring to the lawsuit.

“It was stunning actually, and by 10 o’clock in the morning I was reeling,” [the founder and CEO of Lagunitas, Tony] Magee said about the backlash online. ”  I went home at the end of the day feeling as if I’d run a marathon or been beaten up.”

Indeed, on February 13th, Magee sent the following tweets which began by defending the lawsuit and ended with the statement that the lawsuit would be withdrawn.

This is just a course of action we did not want to take. I attempted to work it out privately w/ SNB but not successful. Deeply saddened…

Today, January 13th 2015, has been the worst day ever in 23 years of growing my brewery. Worst. Growing a biz involves defending a biz…

Defending a biz requires answers to Hard Questions. Q’s like: Are our Foundations Strong? Are our Flavors right? Are our Labels Defensible?

There r many Courts in the world. For me, over the last month, one Court was a series of rebuffed phone calls. Another was a court of law…

Today was in the hands of the ultimate court; The Court of Public Opinion and in it I got an answer to my Question; Our IPA’s TM has limits.

I don’t know every answer beforehand, so I feel around for the edges and try to learn. Today I was seriously schooled & I heard you well…

Tomorrow mornin we’ll Drop the Infringement Suit & get back to answering other Questions. I don’t think I was wrong for wanting to know cuz…

I had to know the Answer, but the Answer came much sooner than I thought and in a different Court than I thought it would. Can I say thanks?

As he wisely notes, there are various “courts” in which business disputes are considered and judged.  Because trademark rights represent the goodwill of a company, sometimes efforts to defend trademarks can, ironically, do more than good to that goodwill.

My Q&A with Food Business News on Legal Trends for 2015

It was my pleasure to participate in a Q&A with Food Business News on Legal Trends to Consider for 2015, which can be found at this link.

UPDATE: Crown Royal / Diageo Claims Victory in TM Battle Against “Crown Club” Whisky

I previously wrote about an impending trial over trademark infringement and unfair competition claims asserted by Diageo North America, Inc., which owns the Canadian whisky brand “Crown Royal,” against Mexcor, Inc. and EJMV Investments, LLC., who market allegedly confusing Canadian whisky under numerous brands that use the term “Crown,” including Texas Crown Club, Florida Crown Club and South Carolina Crown Club.  On December 16th, the jury reached a verdict and Diageo North America is claiming victory.

According to Nicole D’Amato, Diegeo North America’s Director and Senior Counsel, Intellectual Property:

We are pleased that the jury agreed with us that Mexcor has been confusing our consumers and diluting the strength of our Crown Royal brand, and that they will now have to change their name and packaging.

We are also gratified that the jury has backed up their verdict by awarding damages to Diageo.

We take the protection of our brands and intellectual property extremely seriously and will work diligently to protect them.