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01.23.2014

Sorry, We Own That Color

In the world of wine, trademarks are fiercely defended, usually in direct proportion to the net worth of the organization doing the defending. A friend who owned a vineyard known as Olivet Grange was sued by Australian Wine Giant Penfolds because of that word Grange that appeared on her bottles of Pinot Noir. E&J Gallo has sued a number of people for the use of the word Gallo, even in realms completely unrelated to wine. And speaking of Gallo, as in Gallo Nero ("black rooster"), the folks in Chianti don't take kindly to use of their favorite mascot.

Most of these claims, which are generally founded on the legal basis of "potential product confusion" are simply ridiculous.

Witness, the latest such claim, by Champagne house Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin against the tiny Italian producer Ciro Picariello, who apparently have made the near-fatal mistake of having produced a sparkling wine with an orange label.

Nevermind that it is not Champagne. Nevermind that there's not a single word on the label that bears any resemblance to or pronunciation of Veuve Cliquot. No, this is just about the color. A shade of orange which is just a "leeetle too close" to that famous orangey-yellow label that introduced many of us to real Champagne.

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Now, brands certainly need to be able to own a shade of color in a certain situation. Tiffany has the perfect right to sue anyone who starts giving away their jewelry in beautifully pastel blue boxes. Make an all-red can of cola and you most certainly deserve to hear from CocaCola's lawyers.

But an orangeish label on an Italian sparkling wine of very limited production?

While early reports have suggested that Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin is suing Ciro Picarello, apparently that is not the case. In an article on TheDrinksBusiness.Com, the Champagne Giant has clarified that they "approached Ciro Picariello at the end of 2013 to inform them of the similarity between the colours of their labels and requested if the Ciro Picariello label colour could evolve to avoid any risk of association between the two products."

Which is basically the PR equivalent of the tiger's wide smile. The Ponsardin spokesperson added "Contrary to what has been stated, to date, Veuve Clicquot has not entered into a lawsuit against Ciro Picariello and continues to sustain an amicable conversation."

Amicable unless the little Campanian winery doesn't do what the Champagne giant requests.

Unfortunately, small brands like Ciro Picariello can almost never contemplate the legal fees required to stand up to such bullying, which means almost certainly that The Widow will get her way.

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