Butterball Sues Australian Wine Company Over Its 'Butterball' Chardonnay

from the whine-pairing dept

It just won’t stop when it comes to trademark disputes involving the alcohol industry. Such disputes between wine, beer, and liquor companies are legion. In such a crowded industry, it needs to be hammered home that the purpose of trademark law is not so that big companies can bully smaller companies, but rather so that customers are protected from imitation products and from being confused as to who they are buying from.

The latest such dispute is between Butterball, the turkey-selling king based out of North Carolina, and a small wine company in Australia. At issue is one of McWilliam’s Wines Group’s chardonnays, which the company has branded as its Butterball Chardonnay.

According to a complaint filed Dec. 12 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Butterball states that McWilliam’s Wines Group Ltd. “produces, sells, distributes, and imports into the United States a variety of Evans & Tate branded wines, including a type of chardonnay named ‘BUTTERBALL.’”

Butterball states that its trademarked goods and services range from turkeys and marinades to fat fryers and mobile device software. The complaint goes on to say, “The consumer goodwill associated with the BUTTERBALL Marks is one of Butterball’s most valuable assets. Accordingly, the integrity of the BUTTERBALL Marks is extremely important to Butterball and crucial to the continued vitality and growth of Butterball’s business.”

Notably absent from Butterball’s list of goods and services using the Butterball trademark is anything having to do with wine in particular, or even beverages in general. And there is good reason for this: Butterball doesn’t make wine. A brief look at its products page confirms what everyone already knows: Butterball makes meat products, along with a few ancillary items. In other words, when you think of Butterball, you think of turkey. It seems unlikely that the company can argue it is in a competitive marketplace with a wine seller at all, never mind that there might be any kind of customer confusion that could occur due to the name.

And the branding of both companies doesn’t make confusion any more likely. Here are both brands side by side.

Yeah, the branding of the wine label looks nothing like Butterball’s branding, and it has the name of the wine company clearly depicted on it. Now, I’m sure that Butterball will at some point trot out the trademark bully’s favorite excuse and claim it had to file this lawsuit or risk losing its trademark, but that isn’t actually true. It would only be true if there were actual potential confusion or a real demonstrable infringement within Butterball’s marketplace. Neither are the case.

This lawsuit is a real turkey, in other words. I’m so, so sorry…

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Comments on “Butterball Sues Australian Wine Company Over Its 'Butterball' Chardonnay”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Might be proper tho

Where I live in the states, if someone said they got a butterball, everyone would know and associate it with a turkey. I think this is more like saying ‘im selling a new brand of hamburger, its called the pepsi-burger’. Even tho pepsi may never intend to sell a burger, isnt it possible that the use of their name could be misconstrued as support of that product?

I get that butterball isn’t selling wine and nobody would normally think that based on the name alone but I also wouldn’t want someone using my companies name on their product without my consent. If the name butterball didn’t add real value when it came to selling the wine, I doubt that company would have bothered to use it.

Then again, being holed up in the states, maybe the term butterball is more generic than I realize in other parts of the world.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Might be proper tho

I suspect the reasoning is:

* The name “Butterball” is familiar to most customers within the turkey company’s market area as being associated with turkey, and specifically with the turkey company.

* Therefore, when customers within that area see the wine labeled with that name, they are likely to infer (as a first conclusion) that the turkey company has now branched out into selling wine. The fact that the logo is not (remotely) identical is not likely to be a sufficient difference in this regard.

* Therefore, the use of the same name is likely to confuse customers into thinking that the wine is from the same people as the turkey.

Not only does that seem (at a glance) to satisfy the basic “customer confusion” standard, albeit in perhaps a different sense from the one trademark was originally intended to address, it also leads to the possibility of “if the wine is bad, that will serve to reduce customer opinion of the brand behind it, thereby devaluing the turkey company”.

As I’ve said before, I think that many of these misuse-of-trademark articles are arguing against a position which is not actually what motivates the actions being criticized. If you want to change people’s minds, you need to argue against their actual positions, not against the positions you think their actions should be based on.

Nop (profile) says:

Re: Might be proper tho

Speaking as an Australian, when I was a little boy, “butterballs” were literally lumps of butter shaped into little balls, which were a fancy dinner-table thing to go with your bread rolls. My grandmother used to make them for our weekly family meal. I never heard of the American brand name until a couple of decades after her death.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Foot Shot

say what ? ? ?
you are demonstrating EXACTLY what is wrong with the law and MOSTLY with the wrongheaded attitude of big trademark bullies: that someone HAS TO avoid ANY/ALL names that someone has for something somewhere EVEN IF THERE IS NOT TRADUCEMENT…
YOUR way is one based on fear…
stop shaking in your boots, kamper…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Foot Shot

“YOUR way is one based on fear…”

Alien as the concept may be to the artsy, and others who fear math, it’s called “risk management.” It’s a response founded on well-reasoned, evidence-based understanding of the current nature of trademark asshattery and a desire to avoid damaging or even beggaring a company with unnecessary legal fees or wasted branding campaigns. The most casual acquaintance with modern, dismal abuses of the copyright and trademark industries and mere moments of effort with an Internet-enabled computer would have disclosed this particular risk.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Foot Shot

sigh you are irredeemably stupid…
it is NOT that i don’t get the craven and chickenshit ‘bidness policies’ of risk AVERSE management; it is that IT PERPETUATES those self-same, self-made BAD decisions and precedents which lead to ignorance and cowardice among both the bidnesses and citizenry who adopt these risk AVERSE positions automatically with ZERO push back and ZERO revulsion against the unust status quo, merely obeisance and the payment of legalized extortion as a cost of bidness…
see, that is EXACTLY why i say ‘fuck you’: you have gone belly up and given up; obeying Machine without a thought of EVER throwing a monkey wrench in the works, or EVER questioning ‘the way things are’…
you are an authoritarian speed bump on the road of life…

mermaldad (profile) says:

Poor Research or Deliberate Reference?

One AC has suggested that the winery didn’t do a search for the term “butterball”, but my guess is that they may have done it deliberately. Going for a boost from someone else’s trademark isn’t unheard of, and as Tim points out, isn’t illegal if there’s no opportunity for consumer confusion.

If I were Butterball, I’d seriously consider if there’s an opportunity to pair the turkey with the wine and give both brands a boost. A lawsuit just drains everyone’s bank account (except the lawyers).

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Poor Research or Deliberate Reference?

so, even though someone else’s use of the name/whatever is NOT -on plain reading- a traducement, they should NOT use that name OUT OF FEAR that they original company will now introduce some bogus product in THAT realm to bully the newcomer off of that spot ? ? ?
so, you think bullying is fine and are cheering for the bullies ? ? ?
bully for you, bullshitter…

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