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"Tequila" spurs standoff over trademark registration

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

Is the word "tequila" a generic term? Or can it be a certification trademark, as is the word "champagne," that designates an exclusive geographic origin or, in the case of "tequila," an alcoholic beverage distilled only from Mexico's native blue agave plant?" That was the question brought before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB).

Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT) applied for the certification mark for "tequila" in 2003. In 2009, an opposition to this registration was filed by Luxco Inc., a St. Louis-based distillery, on the grounds that "tequila" should remain a generic term.

CRT is the only entity to be accredited and approved by the Mexican government to ensure the authenticity, origin, quality and safety of tequila. As part of fulfilling this role, CRT sought to certify "tequila" as a certification mark for "spirits distilled from the blue tequilana weber variety of agave plant."

The tequila imported by Luxco has already been certified by CRT as being authentic and in accordance with Mexican law. The St. Louis-based company still opposes "tequila" receiving a certification mark, however, claiming that it is a generic term for a type of liquor, not restricted to a certain plant or geographic origin.

During their examination of this case, the TTAB closely reviewed U.S. trademark laws as well as gauged public perception of the term "tequila." The board found that Luxco failed to prove "tequila" is a generic term, citing that the majority of consumers perceive tequila as a Mexican alcoholic beverage and that advertising for tequila brands tends to have a "Mexican theme."

The TTAB also stated that "because the Mexican government authorized CRT to apply to register the certification mark in the United States as the entity that verifies compliance with the Mexican standard for tequila, CRT has the right and authority to control the use of the term as a certification mark in the United States and was exercising legitimate control over use of the term. "

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