from the hang-ten dept
While we’ve seen plenty of instances of confused attempts at trademark bullying backfire on a company, this post will deal with one of the worst I’ve seen. Most of you will likely be familiar with the company Ocean Spray, best known as a purveyor of all kinds of cranberry-infused fruit drinks. You will likely be less familiar with Wedge Water, LLC, a company that makes fruit juice infused water products. The company also does business as Wave Soda, promoting its soda-alternative drinks.
Well, according to a lawsuit filed by Ocean Spray seeking declaratory relief that it did not infringe any trademarks with its own “wave” branding, Wedge Water / Wave Soda sent a cease and desist notice to Ocean Spray demanding that it cease using its own federally registered trademark. More on that in a moment, but here is what the complaint notes about the C&D.
The Letter accuses Ocean Spray of infringing “Wave Soda’s” trademark and trade dress rights through Ocean Spray’s line of OCEAN SPRAY WAVE products. According to the USPTO database, there is no registration for the mark NEW WAVE owned by an entity named Wave Soda, LLC. As noted above, according to the USPTO database, Wedge Water, LLC is the owner of record of U.S. Registration No. 5571632 for mark NEW WAVE.
The Letter advises that Wave Soda, LLC, is a “rapidly growing beverage company based in San Marcos, California.” A search of the database of the California Secretary of State, however, reveals no record for an LLC named Wave Soda, LLC in San Marcos, California, or at all. Despite the fact that there are many brands of sparking water with fruit juice and a small amount of caffeine for sale on Amazon, Mr. Levine’s letter claims that his client “pioneered an entirely new product category.”
The Letter emphasizes that the surfer motif is an important part of Wave Soda’s branding: “Wave’s growing team shares [the founder’s] passion for beverages and an active lifestyle—the Wave Soda Surfboard and VW van are not just for show” (emphasis added).
It goes on from there. The complaint, which includes the C&D letter in full, notes that the notice didn’t offer any specifics as to what was infringing, offered no possibility of a settlement other than the cessation of Ocean Spray using its own mark, and that the letter in general is “utterly confusing as to who owns the trademarks and trade dress claimed in The Letter.” All of this, the complaint goes on, has led the company to seek declaratory relief.
Frankly, the C&D is fairly shitty as far as these things go. But the actual legal claims, based on the suit, seem to be even more confused. This dispute led Ocean Spray’s legal team to start looking into the trademarks claimed by Wedge Water. The complaint notes that Wedge Water applied for a mark for “New Wave” on a variety of goods, but the “intent to use” application failed to demonstrate that the applied for marks were actually in use in commerce. Instead, Wedge Water’s attorneys appear to have supplied some art renderings of what the branding would be. In other words, Wedge Water wasn’t actually using the marks in question before July of 2018. The filing notes that Ocean Spray was using its federally registered “Wave” trademark since at least 2013.
Plaintiff Ocean Spray requests an order declaring that its use of the marks WAVE as part of the mark OCEAN SPRAY WAVE, and the OCEAN SPRAY WAVE trade dress do not infringe Wedge Water’s alleged trademark and trade dress rights. With respect to the word marks WAVE as part of the mark OCEAN SPRAY WAVE and OCEAN SPRAY WAVE, Ocean Spray asserts priority over Wedge Water. Even if the marks are confusingly similar, (which Ocean Spray does not concede), Ocean Spray has prior rights and is not infringing any claimed rights of Wedge Water.
And because of that priority, and likely because of Wedge Water’s attempt to play trademark bully, the lawsuit includes a second count beyond the declaratory relief, seeking also to cancel Wedge Water’s trademark in favor of Ocean Spray’s.
Ocean Spray has standing to request cancellation of the NEW WAVE Registration because it has reason to believe that it will be injured by the continued registration of same. Ocean Spray has reason to believe that it will be injured because Defendant/Registrant or its alter ego, the purported Wave Soda, LLC, has asserted in The Letter that Ocean Spray’s use of its OCEAN SPRAY WAVE trademark infringes the NEW WAVE mark. The Letter asserts, and thus admits, that there is a likelihood of confusion between OCEAN SPRAY WAVE and NEW WAVE.
Whoops. What retort could Wedge Water possibly have? Its own C&D letter suggested that there would be public confusion between the marks…and the trademark registrations sure do indicate that Ocean Spray’s mark was registered first.
Live by the trademark, die by the trademark and all of that. You have to imagine at this point that Wedge Water is regretting having ever sent that threat letter to begin with.