TTAB Trademark Guidance: Distillery News

TTAB Trademark News

Recently in distilling news, there was a precedent set by the folks at The United States Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) about what constitutes a “deceptive” product label. 

This decision applies to the wine and spirits labels so it may be worth checking, or better yet have your lawyers check, to make sure all your products are in compliance with this new decision. The clarification concerns Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a). Section 2(a) which states:

No trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it—

(a) Consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute; or a geographical indication which, when used on or in connection with wines or spirits, identifies a place other than the origin of the goods and is first used on or in connection with wines or spirits by the applicant on or after one year after the date on which the WTO Agreement (as defined in section 3501(9) of title 19) enters into force with respect to the United States.

The TTAB Trademark news boils down to a decision that if a wine or spirit is not produced in a specific region then it cannot use anything in the label or name that would confuse people to believe it’s from that region. Specific geographical references have always been forbidden, you can’t name something Catskills if it’s made in the Rockies for example, and you can’t use someone’s name who isn’t connected with the brand. 

This TTAB trademark decision takes that a step further and opens the possibility to where even alluding to a person’s name can be grounds for a case if they’re iconic for certain geography. If this seems confusing that’s because it is, this guidance is new and likely will need some further clarification and refinements as it comes up in more cases. 

As it stands now an American-made St. Patrick’s Day Whiskey release could potentially run afoul of the new rules since St. Patrick was Irish and not American. Then again maybe not since St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by many and is not innately confined to one geographic location. This question is better left up to the legal professionals than the blog post writers so make sure your attorneys are earning their keep and keeping you out of a lawsuit. 

New guidance and “clarifications” can be confusing regardless of how straightforward they may seem. Having your attorney look at any labels you aren’t sure of could save a lot of hassle in the long run and it’s well worth it to have peace of mind after a change in guidance.