Mayhall Fondren Blaize

Business litigation includes conflicts over trademark intrusions

Louisiana, like all other states, gets to host a variety of business litigation claims. The litigants may be companies of all sizes, from struggling startups to massive, established pillars of an industry. In one recent business litigation case in another state, the giant candy-maker, Mars Inc., is facing a drawn-out trademark dispute with a small chocolate maker consisting of one person.

Mars started by suing the small-batch chocolatier, Syovata Edari, in a federal court for violation of a Mars trademark for the name CocoaVia, which is used for its brand nutritional supplements. The court dismissed that case summarily for lack of jurisdiction due to the defendant having done no business in that state. Edari, knowing however that the dispute was just ratcheting up, brought her own lawsuit against Mars in another state, requesting a federal judge to declare that the small startup does not infringe on Mars' CocoaVia trademark for its brand nutritional supplements by using its name, CocoVaa.

Edari filed the case to head off other efforts by Mars. For one thing, Mars still is pursuing a challenge to the CocoVaa trademark in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Edari told reporters that Mars told her that it was preparing other litigation against her. Mars filed the first case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which is where Mars is headquartered.

The basic issue in this business litigation conflict is whether the CocoVaa name is "confusingly similar" to Mars' CocoaVia trademark. Edari claims that she makes all her chocolate by hand herself in her tiny shop and that her customers are seeking fine artisanal chocolate indulgences. She accentuates the differences in the products, claiming that Mars sells its mass-produced product as a health/nutritional supplement, which is marketed in  powdered form and is not even a candy. Mars, anxious to not be pegged as the big aggressor, says that it tried to offer Edari a settlement to no avail. Trademark disputes are common in the federal courts, including in Louisiana.

Source: madison.com, "Bracing for another lawsuit from candy giant, Madison lawyer strikes first", Ed Treleven, July 27, 2017

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