Coke Zero is a popular derivative of the Coca Cola soft drink; the same taste, but with zero sugar. Appropriately named, Coca-Cola Co., the company behind the soft drink, tried to trademark the word “Zero” back in 2003, also covering drinks Sprite Zero and Powerade Zero. This trademark application has resulted in a dispute between Coca-Cola Co. and Dr Pepper Snapple.

According to Coke’s annual earning reports, Coke Zero had grown by 6%, with Diet Coke and Coke Light sales decreasing by 6%, illustrating the significant weight of this court case ruling. If Coke loses this battle, competitors will be able to use the term “Zero” to market their own products. One rival is Dr Pepper’s Diet Rite Pure Zero.

Dr Pepper Argues against Coca-Cola Co.

Dr Pepper played a substantial role in this court case over its Diet Rite Pure Zero. They argued that if Coca-Cola was given exclusive rights, it would give them “a monopoly to use a common English word in its common English meaning.”

They also stated that “zero” was a generic term used to describe any beverage that contained zero calories. In their application to the US Patent and Trademark Office, they listed 32 beverage brands that used the word “zero” to market their products including Monster Energy Zero Ultra. None of these 32 brands were owned by Coke.

Coca-Cola Co. defends its application

In response to Dr Pepper’s argument, they stipulated that “zero” is not a generic term when used in conjunction with a company’s product because of “extensive advertising, promotion and sales.” They also highlighted that the sales for Coke Zero dominated the market when compared to its competitors. As a result, when rivals used the term, it confused customers.

The ruling

The Patent and Trademark Office’s trial and appeal board, a panel of three judges, reviewed 170 filings across 5000 documents.

Despite the best efforts of Dr Pepper, the court ruled that they had not proved that “Zero” was a generic term. They stated that Coke Zero had “acquired distinctiveness and was “substantially exclusive”.

On the other hand, Coke also had not persuaded the Court that customer confusion had resulted as a consequence of other brands using the term “zero”. Subsequently, Dr Pepper was given the right to register Diet Rite Pure Zero as a trademark.

Therefore, despite U.S. trademark authorities accepting Coca-Cola Co.’s trademark application, the company still does not have exclusive rights to the word. They also highlighted that this case did not set a precedent so future cases over the term “zero” would be considered on a case-by-case basis.