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December 18, 2006

With No Kicks From Cocaine, Students Halt a Trademark

NY Times

Because of a group of law students, the makers of a controversial new energy drink have hit a snag in their attempts to register a federal trademark on Cocaine.

On Dec. 6, the United States Patent and Trademark Office remanded to the examining attorney the application for a federal trademark for the Cocaine energy drink produced by Redux Beverages. Michael Engel, the trademark examining attorney, had tentatively approved the application when he submitted it to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, but changed his mind and asked for a remand for refusal on Oct. 19. The reasons Mr. Engel cited came from a trademark opposition filed on Oct. 10 by five law students at Cleveland State University’s College of Law. (Mr. Engel did not respond to messages left on Friday afternoon.)

The students, who filed their opposition under the name of Professor Michael H. Davis, hatched the idea in the professor’s copyright, patent and trademark class, after a discussion of trademarks that could be refused for being “immoral or scandalous.” One of the students mentioned the Cocaine drink, and Professor Davis soon had five volunteers to oppose the trademark as an extracurricular class project.

“My interest was just the legal interest, to get some experience for the students,” said Professor Davis, adding that the project’s apparently successful outcome would not affect his student’s grades. “But the students were far more antidrug than I’d expected.”

According to Irina Vinogradsky and Angela Simmons, they and the three other students were partly motivated by personal feelings against the name “Cocaine.” “It’s not just academic to everyone in the group,” said Ms. Vinogradsky, adding that the students shared a “very strong feeling that it’s immoral.”

The students, who represented the nonprofit organizations Americans for Drug Free Youth and the Progressive Intellectual Property Law Association in their filing, opposed the trademark for the “Cocaine” name on the grounds that it was “immoral and scandalous,” as well as “deceptively misdescriptive” — meaning that the drink does not contain cocaine. (It does contain 280 milligrams of caffeine, more than twice the amount in a cup of coffee.)

Opinions differed on whether the probable loss of the federal trademark would affect Redux’s business. Jamey Kirby, the owner of Redux and inventor of the drink, has until April to file a counterargument, but sounded unconcerned about the probable rejection.

“All I have to do is look at the orders coming in and then I just laugh at the whole thing,” he said, adding that the company was producing about 200,000 cases of the drink this month and expected to double that amount in January. “As long as we sell drinks, I really don’t care.”