Winery Loses Trademark Suit Against Other Winery Over The Term 'Signature'

from the drink! dept

I’m going to keep ringing the warning bell about how the explosive growth in the beer and wine businesses has resulted in a similar explosion in trademark disputes until people start listening. An industry that has benefited from so much interest and competition is eventually going to find itself with a massive litigious roadblock on its hands if something isn’t done. That said, the typical trademark dispute in the alcohol spaces normally deals with fairly creative names, artistic labels, or cross-industry trademark concerns. Less common are the types of trademark disputes in which the trademark in question is laughably broad or common.

Less common, but not completely absent, however. In Australia, for instance, one winery sued another over a trademark it holds on the word “signature.” The suit failed for exactly the reasons you’re thinking of.

Yesterday the court dismissed an application by Yalumba against the Jacobs Creek Reserve Barossa Signature range, which claimed the Pernod Ricard term infringed on the Yalumba trade mark, “THE SIGNATURE”. The fight was provoked by Yalumba owner Robert Hill-Smith when Pernod Ricard released three Jacobs Creek red wines in September 2015 with “Barossa Signature” on the label.

In her judgment today, Natalie Charlesworth said the case came down to three questions: whether Pernod Ricard used the words “Barossa Signature” appropriately under the Trade Marks Act, whether it was deceptively similar to the Yalumba Trademark, and whether Pernod Ricard used the term “in good faith to indicate the kind, quality, intended purpose, geographical origin or some other characteristic”.

In the ruling itself, Charlesworth goes on to answer those three questions, though she stops herself after the second of them. She reasons that if Prenod Ricard used the words appropriately under the law, as she affirms, and that such use is not going to confuse the public into the origin of the product, as she also affirms, then the answer to the third question doesn’t matter. She goes on to note the differences in trade dress and also notes that the trademarked term “The Signature” is devoid of origin-defining value. Therefore, the lawsuit is dismissed.

As is typical, the ultimate fault for all of this is upon whoever thought approving a trademark for a term like “signature” for an industry overflowing with “signature” labels was a good idea. The term is generic in identifying premier products within a brand. It’s used all over the place. How this trademark application ever passed the smell test in Australia is beyond me.

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