Coca-Cola's 'Zero' trademark worth, well, maybe zero?

Decade-long trademark battle between bitter rivals takes another twist as court overturns 2016 decision


The Federal Circuit has ruled that The Coca-Cola Company might not be able to register its “Zero” brand as a trademark, ordering more proceedings on whether it is just a generic term for calorie-free soda.The US Court of Appeals overturned a 2016 decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that the "Zero" brand name served as a source-designating trademark for Coca-Cola. The court sided with the Dr Pepper Snapple Group in a case that has been in litigation for over a decade.

New opportunity to challenge trademarks

Overturning a 2016 decision, the court granted Dr. Pepper Snapple Group a new opportunity to challenge 17 of Coca-Cola’s trademark registrations that use Zero in the brand name. The rival drinkmaker argued that the term Zero is generic and consumers understand the word to mean any drink with less than 5 calories. Circuit Judge Kathleen O’Malley said that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board had “erred” in a case brought by the Royal Crown Co., a Dr. Pepper subsidiary, for failing to consider whether consumers perceived the mark as being a descriptive term as opposed to a distinct brand relation with Coca-Cola.

Bitter rivals

The companies are bitter rivals in the soft drinks market and the trademark battle reflects this competition, as they fight for the growing share of the diet soft-drink market as per capital consumption declines. In the first quarter, Coca-Cola’s Zero Sugar brand saw double-digit growth, the company said. The company owns a family of Zero trademarks including Coca-Cola Zero, Sprite Zero, Fanta Zero, Powerade Zero, and Full Throttle Zero. Royal Crown said it has no objection to registered trademarks for Coke Zero or Sprite Zero, as long as Coca-Cola makes clear that it is not claiming the right to the word “Zero.” Royal Crown said that it is what it did when it obtained registration for Diet Rite Pure Zero and Pure Zero. If the trademark office later sides with Coca-Cola, it could limit the ability of other beverage companies to get trademark protection for drinks with the word Zero on it.

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