By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
Winery owner Bob Kerivan was looking through a list of alcohol companies licensed in Oregon when he noticed a familiar name: Blue Moon Wines.
Kerivan's Bridgeview Vineyards, based in Cave Junction, Ore., has sold wine under the Blue Moon label since at least 1993 and registered the trademark in 1997.
According to document in his hand, though, Blue Moon Wines was a trade name used by Tri-Star Marketing, a company he had never heard of.
"What the hell is this?" Kerivan said, recalling his reaction at the time. "Then I started looking into it."
Kerivan has now filed suit in federal court against Tri-Star Marketing, based in Walnut Creek, Calif., and several associated companies he accuses of trademark infringement and unfair competition.
According to the legal complaint, Anthony Scotto III heads Tri-Star Marketing, which uses the name "Blue Moon Wines" in various promotions, including the company Web site.
During a conversation with Kerivan, Scotto said he uses "Blue Moon Wines" for promotions, but claimed he did not infringe on the trademark because the name wasn't printed directly on a wine label.
When contacted by Capital Press, Scotto said he had discussed the matter with a trademark attorney and denied his company had violated Kerivan's trademark.
"We're dealing with it through the proper channels," he said.
According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there are about 16,000 trademarks for wine in the U.S. The office gets more than 20 complaints a day about trademark violations.
Kerivan said trademark violations should be a concern for all producers of branded goods.
"If you find out about it and don't protect it, you can lose it," he said. "A lot of people don't know that."
Robert Cumbow, an attorney specializing in trademarks at the Graham & Dunn law firm in Seattle, Wash., said trademarks need to be enforced to be legally recognized, although it's possible to do so outside the courtroom.
Under the law, a trademark exists if the word or symbol has a distinct meaning to the public, Cumbow said.
"Over time, your trademark rights could be eroded to the point where they don't have significance to the public," he said.
For that same reason, a trademark violation can occur even if the name is used in a context other than a label, Cumbow said. An infringement can occur if the consumer is misled about the source of a product.
"The fundamental idea of trademark protection is to protect consumers from being confused or deceived in the marketplace," he said.