Colorado labeling doesn’t dispel potential falsity of “Kona” for coffee

Corker v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 2019 WL 5887340, No.
C19-0290RSL (W.D. Wash. Nov. 12, 2019)
Plaintiffs, coffee farmers in the Kona District of the Big
Island of Hawaii, alleged that defendant Boyer’s falsely designates the
geographic origin of its coffee products as “Kona,” prominently placing the
word Kona on the front of its packaging despite the fact that the product
contains little to no coffee from the Kona District. One of Boyer’s coffee
products is labeled “Café Kona” and another is labeled “Kona Blend.” In lab
tests, ratios of various metal (strontium to zinc, barium to nickel, cobalt to
zinc, and manganese to nickel) are allegedly well outside the range of that
which is found in authentic Kona coffee. Even if there were some Kona coffee in
Boyer’s products, it is allegedly not the meaningful percentage that a consumer
would expect based on the packaging.
Boyer’s argued that the Lanham Act false advertising claims should fail because
plaintiffs didn’t allege that that they, individually or as a group, have a
protectable trademark in the word Kona. But “false designation of origin,” even
before its expansion to cover unregistered trademarks, always covered geographic
origin.
Boyer’s then argued that the claims were implausible because
its packaging clearly showed that it was a Colorado company. But none of the
statements about the Colorado-ness of the company “dispels the notion that the
coffee roasted or crafted in Colorado was grown in the Kona district, a notion
that is arguably conveyed by the use of the otherwise gratuitous word ‘Kona’ in
the name of the product.” (Does anyone think, even with climate change, coffee roasted in Colorado is grown there?)
Finally, Boyer’s argued that the mere presence of a geographic
reference on its packaging cannot give rise to claim for false designation of
geographic origin. If, in context, the use of “Kona” was plausibly misleading, which
it was, the claim could proceed.  (Citing
Pernod Ricard USA, LLC v. Bacardi USA, Inc., 653 F.3d 241(3rd Cir. 2011)), which
rejected a claim based on “Havana Club” for rum that clearly, to the court,
also said it was from Puerto Rico).

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