Franzia’s Boxed Wine Packaging Redesign “Jammed” Up in Trademark Dispute

Dorsey & Whitney LLP

Dorsey & Whitney LLP

On April 1, 2020, JaM Cellars filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against The Wine Group, makers of the popular Franzia brand boxed wine. Plaintiff JaM Cellars is the owner of trademarks relating to the word JAM used in wine products (U.S. Trademark Registration Nos. 3,787,229 and 3,855,785). According to the complaint, since being introduced in 2009, wine using the JAM marks has received several awards, and JaM Cellars has expended millions of dollars in advertising the wine using the JAM marks.

JaM Cellars filed the complaint in the U.S. Federal Court in the Northern District of California. In addition to allegations of trademark infringement, the complaint also includes unfair competition claims under federal and state law.

The dispute between the parties arose out of the sale and advertising of Franzia’s “Bold and Jammy” brand of Cabernet Sauvignon. According to the suit, Franzia has undertaken the “first major marketing campaign in thirty-five years for [the] Franzia brand, which includes a full packaging revamp, as well as new products and line extensions.” One of the results of the marketing campaign has been the BOLD & JAMMY wine, sold in packaging JaM Cellars alleges is distinctive from Franzia’s usual design for other wines in the Franzia line.

The complaint alleges that Franzia’s use of BOLD & JAMMY infringes the JAM marks and that Franzia’s packaging has imitated certain unregistered trade dress elements of JaM Cellar’s packaging.

The parties have a contentious history, and this suit is the latest salvo in a series of disputes between the parties dating back to 2017. JaM Cellars is also the owner of marks relating to the use of the word BUTTER in Chardonnay wines and had previously settled a lawsuit with The Wine Group for its use of the word BUTTERKISSED in wines. In April of 2019, JaM Cellars filed another lawsuit over The Wine Group’s use of the phrase RICH & BUTTERY on the packaging of Franzia’s Chardonnay wines, which is still pending.

It will be interesting to see how this dispute plays out if it isn’t resolved through a private settlement. JaM Cellars will likely focus on any evidence of improper motivation and inspiration behind the rebranding redesign as well as why Franzia departed from other packaging presentations in its line of wines. Franzia, for its part, can rely on the distinguishing role of its well-known FRANZIA trademark in making confusion unlikely to occur. It could also attempt to show that certain colors, font styles and graphic designs are common packaging elements in the field of alcoholic beverages and that JaM Cellars does not own any registered trade dress rights. From a consumer perspective, the question of whether word JAM has any specific meaning or common use in the wine industry will also come under scrutiny. Evidence of actual confusion in the marketplace (or lack thereof) or in the form of survey evidence could also play a role.

The TMCA will monitor further developments and provide updates once the case is resolved. If there is a private settlement, it can also be possible to discern the likely terms of resolution if a re-designed Franzia packaging surfaces in the marketplace (or not).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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