Coke Zero Wins Trademark Dispute With Naturally Zero Water

from the the-mark-of-zero dept

With all the insane intellectual property court rulings we see 'round these parts, it's helpful to highlight when the courts manage to get things right. Trademark, in particular, is a source of frustration, given how often we see court rulings that err on the side of protectionism rather than liberal use of language. One Illinois court recently got things right in dismissing a suit against Coca-Cola over its Coke Zero drink, which was brought by Blue Spring Water, makers of a water product called Naturally Zero.

U.S. District Judge John Lee said that the “Naturally Zero” label straightaway conveys to consumers that the product is without calories or additives, and therefore not suggestive enough to supply a trademark that is inherently distinctive for a beverage label.
It's a distinction too often lost in trademark discussions: terms that are purely descriptive are not protected by trademark law. And it's easy to understand why. If I decide to buck the potato chip trend and make chips out of carrots, calling my product "Carrot Chips", that term isn't protected by trademark in the same way it would be if my product was called "Dark Helmet's Disgusto-Snack Of Gross."

In addition to problems with the product name itself, there were also issues with Blue Spring Water's rather haphazard approach to its own product.
It was later stated that even if the trademark was protectable, the Canadian company had abandoned the mark back in 2004 after failing to reintroduce the “Naturally Zero’ products onto the marketplace. The company had only produced about 500,000 bottles of the “Naturally Zero” water. In 2010 when Blue Spring began using the ‘Naturally Zero” label again, Coca-Cola had already introduced several “Zero” products onto the market including Coke Zero and Sprite Zero with trademarks.
So nice try, silly water company. You're no match for a caffeinated powerhouse.


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  • icon
    G Thompson (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:56am

    “Naturally Zero” label straightaway conveys to consumers that the product is without calories or additives,

    Whereas Coke ZERO and Sprite ZERO instantly convey to the drinker that there will be ZERO chance of them ever trying the dreadful stuff ever again!

    ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 6:26am

      Re:

      Or said in another way Coke Zero and Sprite Zero are sufficiently dishonest namings to be eligible for trademarking. It kind of doesn't rub off well on trademarks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 2:29am

    That term isn't protected by trademark in the same way it would be if my product was called "Dark Helmet's Disgusto-Snack Of Gross."
    I don't know... seems to be just descriptive, to me. Why don't you try adding a "Zero" at the end?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 3:39am

    A little off-topic but the 'marketing' tactics of some products are simply amusing. Is there any type of water that isn't "zero"? I mean, let's go and make a water full of calories folks, seems genial! Not. Considering many products from the old times cold allegedly cure everything and some more that wasn't discovered at the time I guess this is... progress?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    slipstream, 2 Oct 2014 @ 3:55am

    BRING ME THE SWORD OF EXACT ZERO!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 6:02am

    Saved by Zero

    Maybe I'll win
    Saved by Zero

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2014 @ 4:52am

      Re: Saved by Zero

      Coming soon Absolute Zero. A Vodka so cool it will burn your mouth, tongue, stomach and pretty much all your internal organs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    LduN (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:12am

    labelling issues

    So they label and advertise their water as having 0 calories/additives/etc, and want to claim that it's special? It's like root beer advertising it has 0 caffeine (normally root beer has no caffeine, unless added on purpose)...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:24am

    I've never heard of Naturally Zero, but have heard of Coke Zero. Seems to me that Coke Zero should sue Naturally Zero for possibly causing confusion among consumers, not the other way around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Drawoc Suomynona (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:47am

    Coke is walking a fine line with this one, or talking out of both sides, depending on your POV.

    In this case they claimed that ZERO is descriptive, which allowed them to defend the infringement claim, but they also maintain the claim that the billion's they spend on advertising and sales gives the mark the acquired distinctiveness they need to claim their use of ZERO as a trademark. This case was more about the lack of real use by the Naturally Zero people.

    The real battle over ZERO is Royal Crown's opposition to Coca-Cola's ZERO marks, which may actually be decided soon, after seven years of battling. Royal Crown claims, correctly, that ZERO is descriptive of no calorie or zero calorie beverages, and I really hope they win.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    usul_of_arakis (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 12:57pm

    "If I decide to buck the potato chip trend and make chips out of carrots, calling my product "Carrot Chips""

    You wouldn't be the first, one of many.

    http://www.grimmway.com/corporate/carrots/carrot-chips.php

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:45pm

    Bottom line, don't do business in America or with Americans. And up yours Coke, no more cash from me. Zero, Zero, Zero...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ryuugami, 2 Oct 2014 @ 3:02pm

    "Dark Helmet's Disgusto-Snack Of Gross."

    Sounds descriptive to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sambo, 2 Oct 2014 @ 6:16pm

    The bit I can work out is, just how you can 'make' a water product?

    We had a sort of similar thing here in Oz where a bottled water company had to remove the word 'organic' from the label but not due to trademark

    Given water is a combination of 2 gas molecules and usually contains minerals, something organic is probably the last thing you want to ever find in a bottle labelled water.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 3 Oct 2014 @ 8:09am

      Re:

      "just how you can 'make' a water product?"

      The way most bottled water is made is that tap water is distilled or heavily filtered, then some minerals are added to it (drinking distilled water isn't good for you).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:53pm

    Coca-Cola sucks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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