The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board redesignated as precedential a decision dismissing a beverage company’s opposition to trademarks using the term “ZERO” for zero-calorie drinks after the trademark applicant disclaimed the term ZERO in its pending applications, the sole remedy requested in the opposition. Royal Crown Co., Inc. v. The Coca-Cola Co., Opposition Nos. 91178927 (Parent Case); 91180771; 91180772; 91183482; 91185755; 91186579; and 91190658 (TTAB May 3, 2019) (redesignated precedential Mar. 30, 2021) (Hightower, ATJ). The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed with the Board’s decision, holding that disclaiming the term ZERO rendered the dispute moot. Royal Crown Co., Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., Case No. 19-2088 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 3, 2020) (Lourie, J.)
Royal Crown and Coca-Cola are competitors in the beverage market. Coca-Cola filed 16 applications to register marks appending the term ZERO to some of its existing beverage brands, such as Coke Zero, Coke Cherry Zero and Sprite Zero. Royal Crown filed oppositions to each of the 16 applications (later consolidated), arguing that the marks were generic or merely descriptive of the beverages’ zero-calorie attributes, and that the registrations should be denied without a disclaimer of the term ZERO. The Board initially held that Coca-Cola’s applications could be registered without a disclaimer of the term ZERO, finding that Royal Crown failed to show that ZERO was generic for zero-calorie products in the genus of soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks, and that Coca-Cola proved that the term ZERO had acquired distinctiveness for soft drinks and sports drinks, although not for energy drinks. On appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated the decision and remanded the case back to the Board with instructions to apply the correct legal standard for genericness of the term ZERO, including examining whether the term ZERO referred to a key aspect of the genus when appended to a beverage mark, and to make an express finding regarding the degree of the mark’s descriptiveness.
On remand, the Board ordered the parties to rebrief certain issues. Instead, Coca-Cola filed an unconsented motion to amend each of its applications to disclaim the term ZERO. Coca-Cola argued that the disclaimer rendered the remaining issues in the case moot and that no further action was required by the Board. Although disclaimer was the sole remedy Royal Crown originally sought in its oppositions, Royal Crown protested that the disclaimer was procedurally improper and not case-dispositive. Royal Crown argued that its requested relief included a determination that ZERO was generic or merely descriptive, and that while a disclaimer was the manner in which that relief was demonstrated, a disclaimer did not moot the legal issues raised. Royal Crown asked the Board to defer ruling on the motion to amend until it had issued a full decision on the merits.
Agreeing with Coca-Cola, the Board found that since the disclaimer was the relief sought by Royal Crown and the form of the disclaimer was acceptable, entered the disclaimer and dismissed Royal Crown’s opposition.
Practice Note: In the original appeal from the Board, the Federal Circuit also agreed with Coca-Cola, concluding that Coca-Cola’s disclaimer rendered Royal Crown’s appeal moot because the disclaimer was the sole remedy requested and Royal Crown’s request for a full decision on the merits amounted to a request for an improper advisory opinion.