A 7.5 ounce can of Coca-Cola Co. Zero is arranged in front of the company’s regular soda for a photograph in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg)

Coke’s Bid for `Zero’ Trademark Tossed Back on Dr. Pepper Appeal

(Bloomberg) -- In a bitter branding battle, an appeals court sided with Coca-Cola Co.’s rivals and ordered a reconsideration of Coke’s claim that “Zero” is distinctive to its brand.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on Wednesday granted Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc. 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.

The companies’ fight over trademarks parallels their rivalry in the marketplace, where companies are vying 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 isn’t claiming the right to the word “Zero.” Royal Crown said that’s 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.

The case is Royal Crown Company Inc. v. The Coca-Cola Co., 16-2375, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington).

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