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03/16/2017

Fed Court Follies: Rita Walks, Spuds’ New Owner Balks (excerpt)

A busy time for alc bev biz in courts.  Coupla new developments this week.  US Appeals Ct for 9th Circuit, taking a break from reviewing the Trump Admin’s proposed immigration ban, took a drink, or two. A 3-judge panel, including one who’s been widely quoted on the immigration matter, upheld lower ct decision and ruled that “no reasonable consumer would be deceived by the label on the carton into thinking that Bud Light Lime-a-Rita...is a low-calorie beverage or that it contains fewer calories or carbohydrates than a regular beer.  It is clear from the label that the beverage is not a normal beer,” judges wrote, since label calls bev a “Margarita With a Twist” and pictures a margarita. Proper comparison is Budweiser Lime-a-Rita or a real margarita, both of which would have as many or more calories and carbs, they added.  Gotta note tho: decision was not unanimous.  One of 3 judges dissented. “Most natural comparison,” in this judge’s judgment,  ain’t a Bud Lime-A-Rita (which doesn’t exist) or a margarita (which has tequila and is “decidedly not a malt beverage”), but Bud Light Lime, which has “far fewer” calories/carbs than a Rita.  Consumers “could be misled,” this judge believed, by the word “light” since calorie/carbs in small print on labels and not visible on cartons. So Rita won a squeaker here.

Spuds Trademark Owner Barks In US Dist Ct  Spuds Ventures LLC, a co that revives dead brands, sued AB, claiming brewer’s Super Bowl ad infringed trademarks he’s gotten for Spuds Mackenzie, at least for some products.  AB’s Spuds trademarks are dead, suit sez.  SV LLC has had trademark for selling pet products, t-shirts and the like for yrs.  Last summer co filed new application with “bona fide intent” to use mark for bar, beer garden and other services.  AB asked for delay to oppose that application in Feb this yr.  Plaintiff claims AB put out “infringing” press release and ran “infringing” ad.  Seeks injunctions, reparative ads and, of course, money.  You might think Spuds Ventures would love free publicity for its products (which include pet deodorizers, natch) that Super Bowl ad provided.  You’d be wrong.

Plaintiff claims “reverse confusion,” which “occurs when more powerful companies” like AB “use the trademark of a smaller, less powerful senior company,” like Spuds Ventures, which is now “hampered in developing its own senior trademarks as consumers will assume it is he who is the infringer, not vice versa.”  AB’s calling dog*&$!: “Anheuser-Busch created the Spuds MacKenzie character and used it in Bud Light commercials and promotions.  The plaintiff's only trademark registration for ‘Spuds MacKenzie’ covers pet dietary supplements and grooming supplies.  We believe the lawsuit is without merit and intend to vigorously defend against it.”

Publishing Info

  • Year: 2017
  • Volume: 19
  • Issue #: 50
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