My, what a difference a few letters can make: Mars Inc. — maker of candy bars, chewing gum, and dog food — is suing Wisconsin chocolate company CocoVaa, claiming its brand could “confuse and deceive” consumers into thinking it is related to CocoaVia, a line of cocoa extract supplements and snacks produced by Mars.
Mars says in a complaint [PDF] filed in its home state of Virginia that it has been selling both CocoaVia products and dark chocolate-based snack squares called goodnessknows on CocoaVia.com for “many years.”
The Wisconsin woman’s brand is “confusingly similar,” Mars claims, “in appearance, sound, meaning, and commercial impression,” pointing to the CocoVaa website and packaging:
Mars claims that CocoVaa is infringing on its trademark because it makes “cocoa-based chocolate products for human consumption.” The company says that using the name CocoVaa “is likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception among purchasers and the consuming public as to the source, origin or sponsorship of Defendants’ Goods.”
Mars says that “a substantial number of actual and potential purchasers and consumers” might mistake CocoVaa goods as a product that’s licensed, approved, or sponsored by Mars’ CocoaVia line.
The company states in its lawsuit that it notified CocoVaa of its ownership of the CocoaVia trademark in September, and requested that it stop using it. At that time, CocoVaa was only sold in Wisconsin, Mars says.
CocoVaa declined, Mars states in the complaint, and since that time, the chocolate brand “nevertheless expanded, and continue to expand, sales of their products bearing the Infringing CocoVaa Mark throughout the United States.”
The owner of the company tells the Associated Press that she chose the name because her father’s nickname for her when she was a child was Vaa. Her products are clearly decadent candies and not healths supplements, she says.
To that end, in correspondence cited in the lawsuit, her lawyer claims that shoppers who are seeking “dietary, nutritional, and/or health-enhancing supplements” aren’t likely to find them near fine chocolates
“Conversely, when consumers seek indulgences such as fine chocolates, they do not encounter dietary and nutritional supplements,” the letter states.
The way CocoaVia and CocoVaa goods are sold is also “entirely different,” CocoVaa’s lawyer wrote in the email, as CocoaVia products are “pre-packaged in secure, hygienic packaging,” whereas CocoVaa goods have packaging that “clearly reflects and emphasizes their handmade/artisan nature.”
The two products are sold in different outlets, the letter notes, “or at the very least in different locations within the same outlets, as health and nutritional supplements are located well away from gourmet foods, confections, and fine chocolates in retail outlets.”
Even if someone did think the two products sound similar, “the nature of the goods and their manner of sale is such that no ordinarily prudent consumers would assume a connection between them,” CocoVaa’s lawyer wrote.
“I actually invited them so they could see, ‘Hey, you don’t have to worry about me. I’m doing something completely different,'” CocoVaa’s owner told the AP.
Mars wants CocoVaa to stop using the CocoVaa brand name on any cocoa-based food or drink products, and turn over any proceeds from the sales of any goods that infringe on its CocoaVia mark, as well as damages.