Grapes, Girls and Goddesses: Federal Circuit Affirms MAYARI Trademark Registration For Wine

MayaIn our annual Trademark Year in Wine and Beer, we discussed Oakville Hills Cellar v. Georgallis Holdings LLC, in which the application of Georgallis (doing business as Kissos Wines) to register MAYARI for wine was opposed by Oakville (doing business as Dalla Valle Vineyards), holder of the MAYA mark for wine. To keep things simple, we’ll refer to the parties here as Mayari (the applicant) and Maya (the opposer).

The TTAB ultimately permitted the MAYARI registration, holding that confusion was unlikely because the parties’ marks were not identical, because there was no evidence they would be pronounced the same, and because they would be perceived to have different meanings.  Maya appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which issued its affirming opinion this past Friday.

Oblique Angle Argument Rejected

First, the Federal Circuit addressed Maya’s argument that the marks were just too darned similar: the junior MAYARI mark used the same first four letters as the senior MAYA mark, the only difference being a measly -RI tacked on the end of it. The Court held that there was insufficient evidence that consumers would view MAYARI as two components (“MAYA” and “RI”), but rather it was more likely they would see it as a unitary, and therefore dissimilar, expression.

Maya also argued that consumers would not always see or hear the names of the wines in a vacuum.  For example, a customer may see the mark on a bottle of MAYARI at an angle with only the first four letters visible. Given that the marks would be pronounced the same, Maya argued, this kind of mistake would be particularly likely in a loud bustling restaurant setting. The Federal Circuit agreed with the TTAB that there was no evidence that the marks would be pronounced the same, and also agreed that Maya’s angle argument was too speculative.

Girls and Goddesses

Next, Maya argued that the wines had virtually identical meanings. “Maya” is the name of the Maya winemaker’s daughter and also the name of a Hindu goddess. “Mayari,” similarly, is a portmanteau of the Mayari winemaker’s daughters (Maya and Arianna), and also happens to be the name of a goddess from Tagalog mythology. In the Philippines, Maya argued, it is not uncommon for baby girls to be given the name “Mayari.”

The Federal Circuit rejected Maya’s arguments. The Court found that a U.S. consumer will be unfamiliar with the esoterica of Hindu mythology, Tagalog mythology and baby names in the Philippines. Nor is the average wine purchaser, even a sophisticated one, likely to know the names of the vintners’ children. Rather, U.S consumers will perceive MAYA as a common name for girls and a reference to a pre-Columbian culture. As to MAYARI, the Court noted, U.S. consumers will perceive it as gobbledygook since it has no established meaning here. Therefore, because one mark communicates specific meanings while the other basically has no meaning in the U.S., consumers were unlikely to be confused.

By the way, if you are looking to sample either of these wines, a bottle of the MAYARI 2011 Cabernet goes for about 60 bucks on the Kissos website, while lists the price of MAYA reds from the same year at up to $400 a bottle. In the TTAB proceeding, Mayari pointed to this discrepancy in price as an important distinction between the marks, but the TTAB rejected this argument because neither party had limited the scope of its registration to price.

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