Relatedness Of Trademarked Goods – Hard Seltzer vs Beer

On January 22, 2024, In re MetaBev LLC, Serial No. 90897101, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) refused to register the proposed trademark CHILL for “hard seltzer,” finding confusion likely with the identical mark, CHILL, registered for “beer.”

In the case of MetaBev LLC (“Applicant”) versus the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), the central issue revolved around the likelihood of confusion between MetaBev’s application to register the trademark “CHILL” for hard seltzer and several pre-existing trademarks owned by Molson Coors Beverage Company USA LLC and Chillfizz Beverage LLC. These existing trademarks also featured the term “CHILL” and were used for beer and hard seltzer.

The TTAB refused the registration of MetaBev’s mark under Section 2(d) of the Trademark Act, which bars registration of a mark that is likely to be confused with a pre-existing registered mark. The opposing marks included “CHILL” for beer, a stylized version of “CHILL” for beer, “CHILL FIZZ” for brewed sugar-based beer and hard seltzer, and “CHILL FIZZ ICONIC PHILLY HARD SELTZER” for similar products.

The TTAB applied the DuPont factors, a set of thirteen considerations used to determine the likelihood of confusion between trademarks. These factors examine the similarities and differences between the marks and the goods or services they represent, among other aspects.

The first DuPont factor, which focuses on the similarity of the marks in their entireties, was crucial in this case. MetaBev conceded that its standard character mark “CHILL” was identical to the registered mark “CHILL” for beer. Given this significant similarity, the TTAB found a strong likelihood of confusion.

The second factor looks at the similarity or dissimilarity and nature of the goods. Here, the TTAB found that hard seltzer and beer are related products. Evidence submitted included web pages from third-party retailers showing that both products are often sold under the same brands and marketed together. This indicates that consumers might expect that both products originate from the same source, leading to confusion.

The third DuPont factor considers the similarity or dissimilarity of established, likely-to-continue trade channels. Since the goods were described broadly without restrictions, the TTAB presumed they would be sold in similar trade channels, such as liquor stores, grocery stores, and other retail establishments, both online and in physical locations. This overlap in trade channels and the similar target consumer base—adults purchasing alcoholic beverages—reinforced the likelihood of confusion.

MetaBev argued that a general rule does not exist that all alcoholic beverages are related and suggested that more proof was needed to establish relatedness. However, the TTAB declined to perform a “something more” analysis, stating that the evidence provided was sufficient to show that beer and hard seltzer are marketed together and perceived as related products by consumers.

Another significant argument from MetaBev was regarding the numerosity of similar marks in use. MetaBev cited several third-party registrations of “CHILL” or “CHILL”-formative marks for various alcoholic beverages, arguing that this demonstrated the term’s weakness and consumer ability to distinguish between them. However, the TTAB found that MetaBev failed to provide evidence of actual marketplace use of these marks for beer. Without such evidence, the TTAB could not conclude that the mark “CHILL” was commercially weak. The registered mark “CHILL” for beer remained conceptually strong and distinctive.

The TTAB concluded that there was a likelihood of confusion between MetaBev’s proposed trademark for hard seltzer and the existing trademarks for beer. Consequently, the TTAB affirmed the refusal to register MetaBev’s mark.

This decision underscores several key points in trademark law. Firstly, it highlights that identical marks used for related goods are likely to cause consumer confusion. When marks are identical and goods are related, it increases the potential for confusion about the origin of the goods. Secondly, the relatedness of goods is assessed not only by their nature but also by how they are marketed and perceived by consumers. Evidence showing that different products are marketed together under the same brand can support a finding of relatedness. Thirdly, the strength of a trademark is critical. Without substantial evidence of third-party use, a mark’s conceptual strength remains intact, granting it a broader scope of protection.

For businesses seeking trademark registrations, this case emphasizes the importance of conducting a thorough state and federal trademark search to identify potential conflicts with existing trademarks. It also illustrates the necessity of providing robust evidence when arguing against the likelihood of confusion. Understanding the nuances of the DuPont factors and the weight they carry in trademark disputes can significantly influence the outcome of such cases. This case serves as a valuable lesson in the complexities of trademark law and the importance of detailed and comprehensive preparation in the trademark registration process.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!