The natural sweetener stevia has increased in popularity in proportion to concerns over the safety of sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose - not to mention the increasing demand for natural, organic food. Though the FDA initially objected to natural stevia, its December 2008 promotion of the rebiana extract of stevia used in Cargill's Truvia (developed with Coca-Cola) and PepsiCo's PureVia into the "Generally Recognized as Safe" category opened the floodgates to smaller manufacturers.
It's also led to trademark wars that amount to internecine genericide.
Coca-Cola was first to file, claiming Truvia in September 2007. PepsiCo didn't get its application for PureVia in until January 2008. When PureVia was published for opposition, Coca-Cola opposed it on the basis of a prior application and likelihood of confusion with their own trademark.
I can't blame Coca-Cola. "Pure" and "True" have similar meanings, after all, and the two names have similar sounds. It would be easy to get confused about which sweetener went with which soft drink.
And PepsiCo isn't the only company that Coca-Cola is likely to have to pursue, either, because there are more than a dozen other companies filing trademarks for stevia products, and many of those names end in "-via."
- Nativia Guarani
And if that weren't bad enough, there are the ones that use the "stev" root as well: Steviana, Stevita, Steviva. And the products that use the entire word "stevia" in their names, like NuStevia and SteviaSweet.
What's going on here? We didn't have this naming problem with earlier zero-calorie sweeteners. Competing companies chose distinctive names. No one would mistake the name "Equal" for the name "NutraSweet." Whether or not these are good products (and that's not the proper subject of this blog), they're good names.
Names like "Sweet 'N Low," "Sugar Twin," "NutraSweet," and "Equal" all highlight the product's taste, conveying the idea that it's just as good as sugar, but better for you. "Splenda" suggests a glorious new discovery, superior to all its predecessors. These names don't focus on the ingredients, because the ingredients are chemicals that you probably don't want to think about too much.
Because these products are artificial, there was no way to use them in food products without FDA approval, so it didn't matter how much time had elapsed between the discovery of the substance and the trademark filing. All that mattered was that you filed as soon as the product was approved.
Natural, un-patentable, un-trademarkable stevia has been used as a sweetener for centuries, and available in health-food stores in the United States as a dietary supplement for decades, despite the 1991 FDA import ban that restricted its use as a food additive.
That means many companies want to cash in on the "stevia" name. But their desire to do so may cause the US Patent and Trademark office to dismiss their applications because their product names are not only too similar to one another but too generic.
The real winner in this competition is likely to be the company that picks a truly distinctive name and markets it intelligently. The template is there, after all: it's worked for every previous low-calorie sweetener.
What would your top choice for a stevia product name be?