The Saratoga Conundrum: Is It Water, Or Is It Juice

from the i'm-so-confused dept

So many of the trademark disputes we talk about here involve stories centered around the questions of customer confusion and like-market competition. These are two tests central to the question of whether trademark infringement has actually occurred: are the two entities competing with one another for the same customers and are those customers, or could those customers be, confused by the alleged trademark violation. Quite often, the markets and products in question aren’t of the basic-needs variety, perhaps creating some wiggle room in the minds of some as to whether there is a like-market issue to consider.

But to create a truly absurd trademark accusation, the accusing side should really be a producer of one of the basic necessities of life, while the accused does not. Take, say, water. In Saratoga, for example, a large bottled water company is going after a chain of juice bars because both include the word “Saratoga” in their respective trademarks.

Saratoga Spring Water Company, which makes the famous blue bottled water, has legally challenged another company’s use of the word “Saratoga.” That business, which received a cease and desist letter followed by a petition to cancel its trademarked name, is the downtown-based Saratoga Juice Bar, a cold pressed juice and wellness brand owned and founded by local entrepreneurial couple Christel and Colin MacLean in 2013.

The cease and desist letter, sent to the MacLeans in March by Laura Smalley of Harris Beach Attorneys at Law, was the first form of communication from Saratoga Spring Water Company on the subject. It stated, “Your use of the SARATOGA trademark in this manner, on goods substantially similar to those sold by Saratoga Spring Water, is likely to induce customers to believe that there is an association between your products and those of Saratoga Spring Water. Your use of the SARATOGA trademark is therefore an infringement of our client’s trademark rights.”

In my head, I’m picturing a nondescript courtroom table, upon which are a bottle of water and a glass of juice, with legal counsel from Saratoga Spring Water throwing his hands in the air and shouting, “Who can tell which is which!” Or, put another way, how badly do you have to be at bottling spring water before your customers can’t tell the difference between it and juice? There is no customer confusion here to worry about. The branding of each company’s products aren’t remotely similar. And, unless you simply lump every drinkable liquid everywhere into the same “marketplace”, there isn’t anything remotely like competition to consider, either. Nobody goes out to get a bottle of water and comes home wondering how they got an acai berry juice instead.

Adding to what will be a legal mountain for Saratoga Spring Water to climb, if it chooses to do so, is the fact that the MacLeans were proactive when it came to trademark issues and their brand.

Aware that the word “Saratoga” has been used to market many brands, the MacLeans engaged the services of trademark attorneys, Arlen Olsen, of Schmeiser, Olsen & Watts to ensure that they secured the trademark rights to market their unique brand when creating it. Their approach was successful and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted the registration of their trademark on November 11, 2014. This allowed the company to confidently proceed and develop their wholesale line of cold pressed juices for distribution, the release said.

This noting that “Saratoga” appears on branding for all manner of products and services is important, as it renders Saratoga Spring Water’s claim to one that rests almost entirely on the notion that water and juice are similar enough in the marketplace so as to cause real customer confusion. Again, I’m picturing the two products side by side on a table and wondering who in the hell would buy that?

I would expect there will be no court case in this instance, however, for all the reasons mentioned above. What is nice to note is that the smaller Saratoga Juice Bar is promising not to back down.

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Companies: saratoga juice bar, saratoga spring water company

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Comments on “The Saratoga Conundrum: Is It Water, Or Is It Juice”

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11 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Problem here is that a water bottling company COULD also bottle juice.
Consumers wouldn’t confuse water with juice, but they could POTENTIALLY think that “Juice Bar” products are made or endorsed by the “Spring Water Company”.

Then again IANAL, and I don’t even have any equity in this case. But they seem to have a chance to win depending on what kind of judge they get.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Purely descriptive names, such a place and type of business, should not be trademarkable, and any trademark by companies with such names should be based on some distinctive graphic element. I.e, the ‘golden arch’ m of McDonald’s is a suitable trademark, while the name McDonald’s should not be trademarkable, even for hamburgers, as there is many a McDonald in the world, and some of them set up hamburger joints. So long as they do not use the distinctive logo, they should be able to call the company McDonald’s hamburgers.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Problem here is that a water bottling company COULD also bottle juice.

Exactly. Look at all the non-soda products sold by Coca-Cola. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that a successful bottled water brand might branch out into juice as well, which creates the likelihood for customer confusion, even if they aren’t actually selling juice at the present time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, a brand of bottled water vs a juice bar seems like there’s no trademark problem, but there’s certainly the possibility of future confusion if, at some future date, both companies end up with vending-machine-sized bottles of their products.
At that point, you’re relying on consumers recognising that “Saratoga Spring Water” branded bottles of spring water and “Saratoga Juice” bottles of juice are produced by different companies, and not one by one company producing “Saratoga”-branded beverages. I think this is asking far too much of someone grabbing a bottle out of a vending machine.
It certainly raises the question, as asked above, about whether “Saratoga” should really be an allowed trademark, and also about whether it’s more appropriate to sue now (“But there’s no problem now!”) or to sue later when there there’s an actual problem (“But you never complained before!”).
On balance, I guess I’d go for suing now and hoping to get a judgement that protected me against later action, but it’s not really an easy call.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“there’s certainly the possibility of future confusion if, at some future date, both companies end up with vending-machine-sized bottles of their products.”

That’s half of what’s so silly about this. Surely the law is meant to deal with what people are doing or have done, not what they might decide to do at some unspecified point in the future?

Anonymous Coward says:

to: Saratoga Spring Water Company
fm: Saratoga Springs Public Works

re: Copyright infringement

Your use of the SARATOGA trademark in this manner, on goods substantially similar to those sold by Saratoga Springs Public Works, is likely to induce customers to believe that there is an association between your products and those of the City of Saratoga Springs. Your use of the SARATOGA trademark is therefore an infringement of our client’s trademark rights.

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