Federal judge dismisses trademark infringement suit against Coca-Cola over “Zero” products

Last week an Illinois federal judge found that the name of Canadian Blue Spring Water’s “Naturally Zero” product was merely “descriptive” and did not acquire secondary meaning. Therefore, U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee granted Coca-Cola’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing Canadian Blue Spring Water’s trademark infringement suit against the beverage giant. Canadian Blue Spring Water alleged trademark infringement under the Lanham Act against Coca-Cola’s “Zero” line of products that includes Coke Zero, Sprite Zero, and others. In finding the mark to be descriptive, Judge Lee wrote:

“‘Naturally Zero’ immediately conveys to the court that the spring water sold by plaintiffs contains no calories or additives.”

Even if the “Naturally Zero” mark was protectable, Judge Lee wrote that Canadian Blue Spring Water abandoned the mark in 2004 when it didn’t bring the “Naturally Zero” products back into the marketplace and had only produced 500,000 bottles of “Naturally Zero” water.

As pointed out on this trademark guide by the Berkman Center’s Digital Media Law Project, a mark that only describes the product or service is not inherently distinctive and requires “secondary meaning” to earn trademark protection. Secondary meaning exists when consumers come to associate the mark with a certain source of goods or services. In this case, for example, the judge found that “Naturally Zero” merely described the water–it was “natural” and it contained “zero” additives or calories. An example of a descriptive mark would be “spicy chili” (only describing the nature of the product) or “Lambert’s chili” (only describing who produced the chili). Now, if through sales, marketing, etc., “Lambert’s chili” earned secondary meaning in the market and came to be understood by customers as being distinctive, then the mark could potentially earn trademark protection.

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