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A business trip to the French countryside surely can’t be anything to whine about. But that doesn’t stop Farella Braun & Martel partner John Cooper from fretting about how it will pull him away from his sound engineer or satellite technology clients in San Francisco. His partner, James Morando, has little sympathy for his elder co-worker, and grows dreamy when he thinks about the misty, verdant vineyards of southern France this spring. “Hopefully you’ll join me in Bordeaux this April?” he taunts Cooper. Morando will be lecturing about 200 French winemakers on how to protect their brand and to otherwise wend their ways through the torrential intellectual property storm brewing on the United State’s wine marketing scene. Cooper is the senior lawyer in the San Francisco firm’s IP litigation group and a rainmaker who spends a lot of his time in court for longtime client Dolby Laboratories. Morando serves as the IP group’s chair with clients including Dainippon Screen Manufacturing Co. and Visa. The two are positioning themselves at the juncture where IP meets the wine business. The spring trip to Bordeaux — which Cooper will go on if he’s at trial for a semi-conductor wafter client — is meant chiefly to connect with potential French clients interested in moving into American markets. The pair has devoted a lot of time over the last two decades guiding Napa Valley clients through various trademark and branding snarls locally. “If they’re going to be involved in the U.S. they have to know how litigious the U.S. can be and be very forward-looking,” said Morando. But you won’t hear either of them whining about the work it breeds, or about the free cases of $250-a-bottle Opus One, the signature wine from the joint venture between Robert Mondavi Winery and France’s Baron Phillipe de Rothschild. When the Dominican Republic-based Fuente Cigar Ltd. introduced a cigar called the Opus X, litigation was initiated in a Florida federal court. Farella ultimately won “a favorable settlement” for the makers of Opus One, with a limitation making the cigar company always refer to it as the “Fuente Fuente Opus X” cigar. “An enormous amount of value is in the label,” said Cooper, who already has his hands full with another wine branding dispute, which said that unlike a car, a wine cannot be “test driven” before purchase. “Distinctions are very minor but very important in the wine industry.” In Larkmead Vineyards v. Frank-Rombauer Cellars, Cooper argues on behalf of Larkmead that Frank-Rombauer Cellars violates the federal anti-cybersquatting statute by having registered more than two dozen Internet domain names that are “identical and/or confusingly similar to Larkmead’s federally protected trademarks.” But Frank-Rombauer was not grasping in the dark when it registered the names; Larkmead conditionally licensed the name Frank-Rombauer Larkmead Cellars to them in 1996. Frank-Rombauer owns the old Larkmead building in Calistoga, Calif., where Larkmead started out. “This is typical of how trademarks are protected in the wine industry,” Cooper said about the fray going on right now in Napa Valley and in St. Helena, Calif., where Farella has a small satellite office. Last fall a judge denied cross-motions for summary judgment, and a settlement conference is scheduled for March 8. “There are some challenging legal issues in the application of trademark law to the wine industry,” said Morando. “Being a person who enjoys fine wine myself I find it personally interesting to be connected to it.”

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