Coca-Cola loses bid to cancel U.S. trademarks of its Indian soft drinks

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The wall of the Coca Cola bottling plant is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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  • Coca-Cola challenged U.S. trademarks owned by Meenaxi Enterprise for Thums Up and Limca, which Coca-Cola sells in India
  • Court said Coca-Cola did not show it was harmed by marks in America

(Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co's sales of Thums Up and Limca sodas in India and other countries did not justify canceling another company's U.S. trademarks for soft drinks with the same name, a federal appeals court said Wednesday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit revived Meenaxi Enterprise Inc's U.S. trademarks after finding Coca-Cola failed to prove it suffered any harm in the United States that would give it a basis to challenge them.

Meenaxi's attorney Richard Mandel of Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman said he and the company were pleased with the decision. Coca-Cola and its attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Parle Bisleri introduced Limca lemon-lime soft drinks in India in 1971 and Thums Up cola there in 1978, the court said. Coca-Cola bought the rights to the drinks in 1993.

Thums Up and Limca are sold extensively in India and other countries in Asia and Africa. Coca-Cola also said importers have been selling them in America since at least 2005.

Meenaxi has been selling drinks with the same name to Indian grocers in the United States since 2008, and received federal trademarks for them in 2012. Coca-Cola asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the registrations in 2016.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board found Coca-Cola could bring the case because Meenaxi's products could harm the reputation of its drinks among Indian-Americans. It canceled the registrations after finding Meenaxi was trying to "dupe" U.S. consumers.

The Federal Circuit said Wednesday that the board should not have let Coca-Cola challenge the trademarks because the company did not show it had been injured in the United States.

Coca-Cola does not sell the drinks widely in America and did not demonstrate any lost sales from Meenaxi's products, the court said. Sales of the drinks by third-party importers also did not establish standing for the company under trademark law.

The alleged harm to Coca-Cola's reputation among the Indian-American community could not sustain the case either. The Federal Circuit said there was "no basis to assume that an American of Indian descent is aware of brands in India," and the board's opposite conclusion relied "at least in part on stereotyped speculation."

The case is Meenaxi Enterprise Inc v. Coca-Cola Co, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 21-2209.

For Meenaxi: Richard Mandel of Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman

For Coca-Cola: Holly Hawkins Saporito and Kirk Bradley of Alston & Bird

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com