For a few months now, the Minneapolis skyway system has been flooded with a variety of fresh, creative, eye-popping advertising to promote Pepsi’s new bubly sparkling water collection:

Although not a lie (the bottles I’ve seen clearly reference Pepsi), you’d never know from this ad or the trademark registration that Pepsi is behind bubly, since an Irish entity located in Bermuda owns the mark.

Thoughts about Pepsi’s line of reasoning for having ownership rest with an Irish entity located in Bermuda? Taxes maybe?

Yet, it is clear the market knows this is a Pepsi launch, wonder what Coke, owner of Tab, thinks?

Sipping a bubbly drink, like sparkling water, necessarily has bubbles, explaining why the USPTO required a disclaimer of the word “bubbly,” even though the mark includes bubly, not bubbly.

Although it might be nice to own a standard character registration for the misspelled and un-disclaimed wording bubly, that hasn’t been attempted, as the misspelling is likely not distinctive.

Holding a word only registration for bubly doesn’t appear possible any time soon, since the double entendre is only apparent from the stylized bubly sparkling water mark, not bubly standing alone.

Double entendre? Yes, the description of the stylized mark notes the “u” in “bubly” is “depicted as a smile,” which ties into the additional meaning of “bubbly” — lively, cheerful and talks a lot.

If the words “bubbly” and “bubly” can’t be owned here, may that inspire a truncation to bub, especially given this pending intent-to-use trademark applications for bub and Bub Sparkling Water?

Unless you have created a highly stylized, distinctive, graphic representation of a generic designation, perhaps something like the Miller Lite script, don’t bother trying to own or enforce it:

 

Most likely, you’ll end up regretting the decision to enforce, when the court of public opinion weighs in, after the social media shame-wagon flogs it as another example of trademark bullying.

Lagunitas Brewing filed this complaint in federal district court for trademark infringement against Sierra Nevada’s Hop Hunter IPA, because the generic acronym IPA (standing for India Pale Ale) appeared in black all capital letters (perhaps the lowest common denominator for stylization):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lagunitas claimed: “This proposed design uses all capital, large, bold, black ‘IPA’ lettering in a font selection that is remarkably similar to the iconic Lagunitas design and, indeed, is the central and most prominent feature of the new Sierra Nevada design, emulating the iconic Lagunitas family of IPA trademarks. . . . ”

The thing is, Lagunitas probably has the potential for a very, very narrow trademark right in its stylization of the IPA graphic, but I’d hardly call Sierra Nevada’s version “remarkably similar” — moreover, I’d suggest that near identity and probably other similar trade dress elements would be needed to have a plausible likelihood of confusion claim.

Lagunitas seems to have forgotten how it explained in far more detail — in paragraph 16 of its complaint — the claimed distinctiveness of its graphic representation of the generic IPA acronym on product packaging:

“The unique ‘IPA’ lettering used in the Lagunitas ‘IPA’ Family of Trademarks has a distinctive serif font, distinctive kerning (or letter spacing), between the ‘P’ and the ‘A’, slightly aged or weathered look, with uneven areas on each of the letters, and the elimination of any periods between the letters. These elements together are unique to the iconic design of the Lagunitas IPA. The overall effect of these factors (the all-capital, large, bold, black serif lettering style, and the placement with respect to other wording and design elements) creates a unique, iconic design that is associated with and signifies Lagunitas and its associated reputation for excellence in the craft brew industry and among consumers.”

Assuming for the moment that Lagunitas has a narrow trademark right in its graphic representation of the generic IPA acronym, the problem remains, all the claimed elements aren’t present in the Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA package design.

Probably the most unique aspects of the visual identity (the “slightly aged or weathered look, with uneven areas on each of the letters”) are not present in the Sierra Nevada design, putting aside the fact that the HOP HUNTER trademark obliterates at least a quarter of the IPA lettering.

It’s kind of like complaining about the use of the words “Eat More Kale” when the words are spelled correctly without dripping black “Eat Mor Chikin” ink from cows with poor grammar and penmanship, or perhaps it’s also like targeting a monochrome red shoe when the non-traditional red color trademark covers only the red sole portion of the shoe as a contrasting color.

Let’s face it, Lagunitas is another painful reminder to brand owners that selecting appropriate trademark enforcement targets is no less important when narrow as opposed to strong trademark rights are claimed. Yes, the Lagunitas overreach reminds me of the ill-advised enforcement targets pursued by both Chic-fil-A and Christian Louboutin.

Having said all that, we remain hopeful this all ends well for Lagunitas.  Hopefully the wisdom of the Lagunitas’ apology and the almost immediate withdrawal of the lawsuit permits the brand to get back to business and avoid years worth of legal fees and further media flogging.

Legal types, would you have brought the Lagunitas’ trademark infringement claim?

Marketing types, how would you grade the Lagunitas’ apology in terms of content and timing?

Cadbury Adams, a Cadbury Schweppes Company

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

My recent family road trip through the heartland had me spending more time than usual pumping gas and shopping in convenience stores, so a few chewing gum brands "gone single letter" caught my eye. As you may recall, I already have reported on Single Letter Envy in Hotel Branding. Well, it appears that the quest for single or one-letter brands is not limited to the hospitality industry (let alone others I’m sure to write about in the future), but has "stretched" to the confectionery industry too.

Turns out, both single letter gum brands that caught my eye are owned by the same company, Cadbury-Adams, part of "Cadbury plc – a leading global confectionery business with the number one or number two position in over 20 of the world’s 50 largest confectionery markets."  

Yes, Cadbury Adams has migrated from its long-lasting Bubblicious brand name (having equal style for each letter) to a differently styled beginning B in Bubblicious, and most recently, to the letter B, standing alone, front and center on packaging; fully-truncated to B, as shown above. So, in our ever-abbreviated and truncated branding world, where G now means Gatorade (among other things, as a previously blogged about here), B now apparently means Bubblicious, and S now means Stride (another Cadbury Adams chewing gum brand). Might care be in order to avoid having these two brands appear side by side on store shelves — at least in the order appearing above — to avoid some unintended combined meaning of the brands? Perhaps one of the "sticky" consequences of single letter brands is the temptation others may have to spell alternate and unfavorable words and acronyms with them.

As you might imagine, confronting these single letter brands raises a number of questions in need of some answers. For example, are single or one-letter brands for chewing and bubble gum, just the latest flavor trend, or are they here to stay? Why are they currently so appealing, at least to Cadbury Adams? Are there other single letter gum brands in the marketplace, or just B S? Lastly, what are some of the legal ramifications of branding single letters for confectioners?

I’ll leave the first two questions for others to chew on — especially marketers, but I’ll take a crack at the second two.

Continue Reading Single Letter Chewing Gum Brands: A Lasting Flavor or Just B S?