Trademarking: August 2008 Archives

Will the Real ExxonMobil Please Stand Up?

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circleR.pngTrademark law exists to prevent others from doing business under your registered name, but before you can challenge them in court, you have to be able to catch them. And while people are far less anonymous than they believe on the Net, it can still take time to track infringers down.

First we had cybersquatting: the greedy and foresighted would buy domain names like CocaCola.com long before the company that had trademarked that name even thought of going online, then charged the company an exorbitant amount to buy the domain from them.

And then there was phishing, the act of luring consumers to sites that look like eBay, PayPal, or their bank, and asking for all their login information, including to Social Security number and mother's maiden name.

Now, with new social networks and Web 2.0 services springing up every day, there are more and more places that a company either needs to be or to monitor in order to protect itself from "brandjacking."

Exxon.pngThe latest victim of this form of brand impersonation is ExxonMobil. Due to the high-profile coverage of Comcast's presence on the microblogging platform Twitter, the creation of a Twitter account with the handle "ExxonMobilCorp" was more plausible than it would have been six months ago, even if some of the 140-character messages sent by "Janet" seemed off key.

If you've taken the trouble to trademark a company name or product name and build up a brand, then it's worth making sure that you're the one to put that name on the social media map and register as a user with the social networks.

Even if you never use the account, at least no one else will be able to abuse your good name.

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pepsi.pngThe rivalry between Pepsi and Coke is set to get bitter as Pepsi prepares to beat Coke to the punch with a brand new all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener called Purevia that it is launching in its SoBe life drinks in Latin America.

coke-logo.pngPurevia's chief component is a substance called stevia, which Coke has been working on with agribusiness giant Cargill for a new brand name beverage called Truvia.

Coke, until recently, called the Cargill inspired product by its "trade name" Rebiana.

Confused yet?

Stevia_Rebaudiana.pngStevia based sweeteners are derived from a Latin American plant in the chrysanthemum family which has been used in cultures for centuries.

However, the FDA will not allow stevia to be used as a sweetener in its traditional form, hence the race between the two cola giants to create a stevia based sweetener that can be sold as a tabletop sweetener and used in a handful of products.

So, for the record, we have stevia, which is a "dietary supplement" according to the FDA, but is not an additive. Truvia and Purevia are chemical derivatives of stevia and are additives that have not yet been approved by the FDA, but should be soon.

Truvia was launched recently amidst some fanfare in hope's of taking the wind out of its chief competitor's sails, but . . .

ZeviaCans.pngNow, a new drink called--wait for it--Zevia has beaten them both in the stevia stakes, telling the world that it is "the first stevia based product to offer a truly all natural alternative to artificially sweetened diet sodas." To add insult to injury, one Zevia executive has said that he is concerned that "Truvia and Purevia have strikingly similar names to Zevia which may result in consumer confusion."

So, we have a brand name called Zevia using stevia to conquer Purevia and Truvia, both created by different companies that used stevia (although one company sometimes called its additive Rebiana).

One of these is a dietary supplement, one is an additive, both can be canned and sold. Nothing that is in Zevia can be used as a tabletop sweetener, however, Purevia and Truvia get that privilege. The stevia that is in Zevia, however, can be used anytime you wish, so long as you don't think of it as a sweetner (although it is indeed sweet).

So consider yourself warned: finding stevia in the USA will be hard (thanks to the FDA), but Zevia, Truvia and Purevia are easy to find.

From a name development standpoint, this is one can happen to a client, a naming company, or us when the same morpheme root (via) is used to create a brand name. It is unusual, but it does happen. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out with trademark law considerations.

I'm sensing that there will be tremendous amount of consumer confusion here.

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