Coke Zero has finally been granted a trademark

Coca-Cola first tried to register the term ‘zero’ for it’s fizzy drinks brand in the US in 2007 but not surprisingly was opposed by  Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc who also uses the word for one of their beverages.

However, on 23rd May 2016 the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board granted the beverages giant a trademark for the term ‘Zero’ for soft drinks only, therefore not giving them the right to use the term exclusively. According to the World IP Review The TTAB found that Coca-cola’s descriptive brand name  had acquired distinctiveness in the marketplace, which makes it eligible for a trademark application.

Both the UK (in 2008) and Canada (in 2016) had refused to grant a trademark for the descriptive word when the registrations were challenged by PepsiCo and now the US has made their decision.

If Coca-Cola had lost this battle in the US the consequences could have been terrible for the beverages giant since it would have allowed other companies to use the term  ‘Zero’ and therefore would have diluted their brand’s value. Although Coke Zero isn’t Coca-cola’s top selling product, it is still a significant money-earner for the beverages giant.  According to Euromonitor, over the last 10 years the market share of Coke Zero has increased from 0.5% to 3.0%.

Although some companies have been successful in registering a combination of common words, it is much more difficult to register a single common word, especially if they are descriptive marks. Furthermore, in the case of ‘Coke Zero’ there are many drinks brands that also use the word ‘zero’ in their brand name such as Pepsi Max Zero, Monster Absolutely Zero Energy Drink which had, up until now, affected the ruling of the courts.

When choosing your trademark name  you want to pick one that is least likely to be rejected by the trademark authorities. The three main types of name that can be successfully trademarked are suggestive, arbitrary or fanciful names. A fanciful name is a made up name that bares no resemblance to the real name or a description of the goods or services, for example “Kodak”. “Dove” is an arbitrary name as it is used for soaps and has nothing to do with the bird. An example of a suggestive name is “Greyhound”, used for the coach company, because it only suggests the possible nature of the goods or service it is used for without describing them. Descriptive names like ‘Zero’ describe a function or feature of the product and therefore cannot generally be registered as trademarks. However, if a descriptive brand name develops a secondary meaning by acting as an origin indicator for the goods or services, like Coke Zero has done, then in some cases it can be eligible for registration as a trademark.

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