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...