USA - Mix Geography, Alcohol and Trademarks Responsibly

Two precedential Board decisions in 2020 touched on issues of confusion and descriptiveness with respect to geographic indicators as alcohol brands.

  • First, in In re St. Julian Wine Company, Inc., 2020 USPQ2d 10595 (TTAB 2020), the Board affirmed a refusal of the mark REAL MICHIGAN (with a disclaimer of the term “MICHIGAN”) for hard cider, finding it likely to cause confusion with the registered geographic certification marks for MICHIGAN APPLES (& design). In contrast to a typical likelihood of confusion analysis where a geographic term may be considered descriptive or weak, a geographic certification mark, like MICHIGAN APPLES, is deemed distinctive because its purpose is to designate the geographic origin of goods and services.

  • In City of London Distillery, Ltd. v. Hayman Group Limited, 2020 USPQ2d 11487 (TTAB 2020), Applicant Hayman Group Limited was able to eke out a Supplemental Registration for the trademark CITY OF LONDON (“London” disclaimed) for gin after the Board sustained a refusal to register the mark on the Principal Register on grounds that the mark is primarily geographically descriptive. Finding a “goods-place” association, the Board explained that purchasers will believe that Hayman Group’s gin originates from, or is otherwise associated with, London, England.

Source: McDermott Will & Emery (2021)