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Joseph Phelps Vineyards & Moët Hennessy USA Square Off In A Pair Of Delightful Legal Battles

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Image courtesy of CellarTracker

Joseph Phelps Vineyards and Moët Hennessy USA have squared off in a sour confrontation over sweet wine labels. The battle is playing out in two separate proceedings: one in federal court and the other in the trademark appeals process.

The battles should also be a wake-up call for other wineries especially those with older trademarked and/or library wines that are neither produced every year nor sold widely at retail or on-premise.

At issue is the validity of the trademark for Phelps’ dessert wine “Delicé” (French for “delight”). Delicé was registered as a trademark in 1987 by Joseph Phelps’ Stone Bridge Winery and later transferred to Joseph Phelps Vineyards.

 Sporadically Absent, Does Not Mean Abandoned

Phelps’ Delicé has been made episodically and only, according to Phelps Vineyards, when climate conditions are right for the “noble rot” fungus Botrytis cinerea needed for producing a high-sugar, low alcohol sweet wine.

Regardless of the reasons, the Phelps Delicé has been mostly absent from the retail market. Note: Because attorneys for both sides have had no comment, Wine Industry Insight could not determine which years Phelps’ Delicé was made.
chandon-delice

The TTB Certificate of Label Approval system which has online records only back to 1995, found a single COLA for 1997. Extensive searches of the Internet located, (on CellarTracker), labels from 1983, 1995, 1997.

Litigation & Regulatory Spats Began in Mid 2014

Most likely as a result of the perceived absence from commerce, Moët Hennessy filed for its own Delicé trademark in June 2014. This one for a sweet sparkling wine.

Almost immediately afterwards, it applied for TTB label approval on July 9, 2014 and received label approval on August 8, 2014.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused to grant the trademark on Sept. 17, 2014 citing Phelps’ existing mark.

Moët Hennessy appealed the rejection of its trademark application on March 16, 2015  to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, citing “abandonment.” Wine Executive News premium subscribers can view the entire document here:  Moët Asks USPTO to Cancel of Delice Trademark

That prompted Phelps Vineyards to file a complaint against Moët Hennessy on  April 16 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Wine Executive News premium subscribers can view the entire document here: Phelps v Moët Complaint In Federal Court.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board action was suspended April 23 pending the outcome of the federal court case.

Phelps Responds With Proof Of Recent Use

In its request for abandonment in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office appeal, Moët argued that Phelps had not used the Delicé trademark in more than three years.

Phelps countered in its federal court case, citing three instances of usage in 2014 alone. These exhibits in the federal court case can be downloaded by Wine Executive News premium subscribers.

Phelps Demands Damages And Destruction

The Joseph Phelps Vineyards federal complaint alleges that Moët Hennessy has been selling its Delicé sparkling wine since November 2014 and has demanded that it cease immediately.

In addition, Phelps demands the recall and destruction of all the offending inventory and the destruction of everything associated with the product including labels, bulk wine, advertising materials and more.

Moët Hennessy is also being asked to pay financial damages and Phelps’ attorneys fees.

Once Again: TTB Label Approval Is Not A Trademark

Not everyone has gotten the word that getting a label approved by the TTB is nothing like a trademark and no protection from litigation.Find out who may be in the cross-hairs: These 4 Wineries Are On The Trademark Hook (Available for Wine Executive News premium subscribers only.)

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