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Proving Reputational Injury Without Use of the Marks in the United States

| Andrew Morrell, Ph.D.Julia N. Hanson

MEENAXI ENTERPRISE, INC. v. THE COCA-COLA COMPANY

Before Dyk, Reyna, and Stoll.  Appeal from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

Summary: To maintain a statutory cause of action under the Lanham Act for activities solely conducted outside the United States, the claimant must provide concrete evidence of reputational injury or lost sales.

The Coca-Cola Company sought to cancel Meenaxi Enterprise, Inc.’s registrations for THUMS UP and LIMCA under § 14(3) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1064(3) asserting that Meenaxi was using these marks to misrepresent the source of its goods. Since the 1970s, Coca-Cola has distributed Thums Up cola and Limca lemon-lime soda in India and other foreign markets and obtained registrations for both marks in those countries. Meenaxi has distributed Thums Up cola and Limca lemon-lime soda in the United States since 2008 and registered the marks THUMS UP and LIMCA in connection with soft drinks (among other goods) in International Class 32 with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Coca-Cola claimed that Meenaxi traded on Coca-Cola’s goodwill with Indian-American consumers by misleading them into thinking that Meenaxi’s beverages were the same as those sold by Coca-Cola in India. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) held in Coca-Cola’s favor and cancelled Meenaxi’s registrations.

The Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s decision to cancel Meenaxi’s registrations. The Federal Circuit held that Coca-Cola failed to establish a statutory cause of action based on lost sales or reputational injury. The Federal Circuit noted that the territoriality principle was not implicated as Coca-Cola based its claim solely on its alleged injury occurring in the United States. The Federal Circuit reasoned that the limited sales of Coca Cola’s Indian products by third parties in the US and Coca-Cola’s assertion that Americans of Indian descent would be aware of the marks’ reputation in India, without any survey evidence, was insufficient to prove reputation of the marks in the US. Thus, Coca-Cola failed to establish the right to bring a statutory cause of action under § 14(3) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1064(3).

Judge Reyna concurred to express that the case was governed by the territoriality principle and the well-known mark exception.

Editor: Paul Stewart