We’ve spent some time here discussing the world-famous Coca-Cola brand. Most recently, David Mitchell wrote about the incredible consistency of the Coca-Cola brand over the past 125 years. A while back Dave Taylor wrote a nice Ode to the Brand of Brands, the King of Cola: Coke.

And, let’s not forget my humble suggestion that a roadside sign promoting Coca-Cola at a drive-in restaurant that actually sells Pepsi instead of Coke, might be a good example of an appropriate application of the initial interest confusion test.

But, what about Coca-Cola’s frequent reference to "taste infringement" — some cleverly novel and suggestive legalese apparently coined by the Coca-Cola brand a few years back with its launch of Coke Zero?

Putting aside Brent’s fair question of whether the ads are a good idea, some of my favorite ads have been the Coke Zero viral ads, where a variety of lawyers are punk’d on hidden cameras, led to believe they are being interviewed by Coca-Cola representatives to take legal action for "taste infringement" — against the Coca-Cola team down the hall, the rival team of co-workers behind the Coke Zero launch. This one is my favorite, with lines such as these:

"Are you aware that Coke Zero tastes a lot like Coca-Cola?"

"There might be some taste infringement issues."

"I think it’s basic taste infringement, I’d like to stick with that phrase."

"Basically, a patent/copyright, a little too closely."

The ads are silly and I suspect most viewers appreciate the ridiculousness of Coca-Cola suing itself, but I’m not so sure people understand "taste infringement" to be a ridiculous or faux-legal claim — especially in this environment of increased focus and attention on the expansiveness of intellectual property rights. So, perhaps you heard it here first, there is no such legal claim.

In The Great Chocolate War, as reported by Jason Voiovich, the legal claim that Hershey’s — owner of the coveted Reese’s brand — brought against Dove’s competing peanut butter and chocolate candy, was based on trade dress. Notably, there was no asserted claim of "taste infringement". No one owns the combined taste of peanut butter and chocolate, thank goodness.

That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t intellectual property rights impacting the human sense of taste. For example, with respect to trademarks, we’ve written before about the possibility of taste being the subject of a non-traditional trademark, but to the best of my knowledge, none has been acknowledged or even identified to date. If you have information to the contrary, please share your insights here.

Of course, there is a reason for the lack of or scarcity of taste trademarks. Any product intended for human consumption is unlikely a candidate for taste trademark protection given the functionality doctrine. So, Coca-Cola can’t stop another from selling a beverage that has the same taste as Coca-Cola, just because it tastes the same, unless of course, the maker of the competitive beverage hired away key Coke employees who unlawfully revealed the closely guarded secret formula. That is how trade secret litigation happens, not "taste infringement" litigation.


Continue Reading Taste Infringement?

—David Mitchel, Norton Mitchel Marketing

Coca-Cola is celebrating its 125th birthday this month. A 125 year history as a brand is quite remarkable. Very few brands last that long. In its 125 history, Coca-Cola has become an iconic brand globally.

Coca-Cola is a great case in showing the importance of the various elements of

–Susan Perera, Attorney

Do these containers seem similar to you? Confusingly similar?

That is what Coca-Cola, owner of Simply Orange, is claiming.  In a recently filed trade dress and patent infringement suit Coca-Cola claims that its Simply Orange container is nonfunctional, contains a patented closure lid, and the new Trop50 packaging is likely to deceive

 —David Mitchel, Vice President of Norton Mitchel Marketing

Successful brands often find holes in markets that need to be filled. There are numerous examples to illustrate this point. Microsoft found a great niche in the computer software market and their success made Bill Gates one of the richest individuals on the planet. Apple’s iPod was a product innovation that really enhanced the company’s bottom line. In the 1980’s, Porsche expanded their line of sports cars into a new niche with the 944 and it helped save the company from bankruptcy. However, sometimes holes exist for a reason and they can’t be filled despite the best branding efforts.

The latest example to illustrate this is Devotion Vodka. Devotion Vodka is a protein based vodka. The protein used in Devotion is casein, the same type of protein found in dairy products. According to its website, Devotion is "the world’s first and only 80 proof, triple-distilled casein infused vodka made in the USA". Recently, Devotion announced that they signed Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino of "Jersey Shore" fame to be their spokesperson. Additionally, The Situation will have an equity stake in the company. I believe The Situation is a reasonably qualified spokesperson for this brand. The Situation likes to drink and party as evidenced by his actions on "Jersey Shore" and he is also a fitness enthusiast.

Despite the alignment between The Situation and Devotion Vodka, it is unlikely that this will be a successful brand. This is because the product concept is flawed. The vodka is aimed at a fitness oriented individual. However, vodka is not perceived as a fitness oriented beverage. Additionally, I believe that people will have a hard time understanding how casein protein fits into a hard alcohol product. If the product concept flaw wasn’t a convincing enough argument, consider Devotion’s pricing strategy. Devotion will enter the market similarly priced to Grey Goose. Grey Goose is a vodka brand that is well perceived and associated with quality. It also holds cachet with those who live a Jersey Shore style lifestyle, a target market for the Devotion brand. In a consumer purchase decision between Devotion and Grey Goose, the vast majority of consumers should choose Grey Goose because of its brand equity and stronger price-value proposition.


Continue Reading When Holes in Markets Can’t Be Filled