"I'll have a Coke."
"Is Pepsi alright?"
If you're like me, you've had that little snippet of a conversation so many times you don't even notice it anymore. But every so often I used to wonder about the anal people out there who really cared so much that they would order another drink instead. But not anymore.
This writeup expands a bit on the items above that mention that Coca Cola is a very heavily protected brand name.
Coca-Cola Co. v. Overland, Inc.
692 F.2d 1250
That, my non-lawyer friends, is a citation to the judgment in a lawsuit. You'll note that Coca-Cola is in a dispute with Overland.
Overland owns the Topaz Lodge and Casino. It seems that, "on 23 of 29 separate occasions over a three-year period, employees at the Topaz Lodge and Casino substituted, without comment, Pepsi-Cola in response to specific orders for 'Coca-Cola' or 'Coke.'"
Yes, that's right. Coca-Cola sued them because they didn't ask "Is Pepsi okay?" when people requested Coke.
How did they know?
Coca-Cola has a Trade Research Department whose entire purpose is to, "ensure that retail establishments do not misuse the trademarks of the Coca-Cola Company." I'm going to quote the rest of the footnote because its just too great. All emphasis by me:
The standard procedure followed by Trade Research employees is to visit retail establishments who do not serve the products of the Coca-Cola Company and, without identifying themselves as Trade Research employees, place a specific order for "Coca-Cola" or "Coke." If a beverage is served without comment, the Trade Research employees take a sample of the beverage and send it to Coca-Cola's laboratory for chemical analysis in order to establish that the beverage is not a product of the Coca-Cola Company. The Trade Research employees carefully document all the facts pertaining to their orders.
An employee of Coca-Cola's Trade Research Department first visited the Topaz Lodge and Casino in December 1975. After discovering that another beverage was being served, without comment, in response to specific orders for "Coca-Cola" or "Coke," the Coca-Cola Company appealed to Overland to stop its deceptive practice. When subsequent investigations revealed that the deceptive practice was continuing, Coca-Cola again communicated its protest to Overland. Only when further investigations showed that the deceptive practice had not ceased did Coca-Cola bring suit for trademark infringement and unfair competition.
Yes. If you own a restaraunt and don't ask, "Is Pepsi okay?" Coke might send some people to test you, and then sue.
In case you're wondering, Coca-Cola won this suit. In summary judgment. It didn't even go to trial.
Just a sidebar here, in case you're wondering why Coke would go to such great lengths to make sure people who order Coke get Coke. It's possible for a brand name to be used so frequently that it just becomes another word. We xerox things. We don't grab a facial tissue, we grab a kleenex. Spam is not just a food, its the damn thing in our email boxes.
Once that happens, a corporation can lose its trademark. Anyone (I think) can sell a xerox machine, even if they're not Xerox Corp. The same is true of a frisbee.
How can a corporation prevent this from happening? By suing. A court won't find that a trademark has become generic if there are reams of prior suits making clear that it is not.
I'm sure there's a more detailed answer to this, but I'm not a lawyer, let alone a trademark lawyer. But that's the basic reason.
All quotes taken from Coca-Cola Co. v. Overland, Inc., 692 F.2d 1250 (C.A.Nev. 1982).