World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. is attempting a legal smackdown against a wine school that it says is violating its trademark.
WWE is opposing the Philadelphia Wine School’s attempt to register the name Sommelier Smackdown for the food and wine pairing competitions it has held since 2007. The WWE’s “SmackDown” program has aired on television since 1999.
“The WWE has been the registered owner of the trademark SmackDown for entertainment purposes for many, many years,” said K&L Gates partner Jerry McDevitt, who represents the WWE. “We sent a letter saying, ‘Guess what, you can’t use that.’”
Philadelphia Wine School owner Keith Wallace said that he received the WWE’s cease-and-desist letter in September. He has no intention of backing off the Sommelier Smackdown name, however.
“How pathetic is that?” Wallace said. “That’s what I was thinking. This is just a standard bully tactic. It’s impossible for them to claim that smackdown is not a generic term.”
Wallace saw little chance that anyone would confuse his event, in which a well-known sommelier competes against a member of the wine school staff to create the best food and wine pairings, with the WWE program in which professional wrestlers offer up body slams and full nelsons to cheering crowds.
McDevitt insisted the Sommelier Smackdown name is a “blatant rip-off” of the WWE’s trademark and that the wine school is using the Smackdown name to grab attention at the expense of the wrestling entity.
Wallace plans to fight the WWE for as long as he can without breaking the bank.
“I have a staff of five,” Wallace said. “If I have to choose between fighting the WWE or paying my staff’s health care, I’m going with the staff’s health care.”
The Philadelphia Wine School isn’t the only beverage-centric small business being targeted by larger companies that want to protect their trademarks. The owner of the Rock Art Brewery in Morrisville, Vt., is fighting attempts by the makers of the Monster energy drinks to force him to rename a beer he calls “The Vermonster.” The Hansen Beverage Co. sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rock Art Brewery owner Matt Nadeau in early September, said Douglas Riley, the brewer’s trademark attorney.
“Their claim is that they have the exclusive trademark on the word ‘monster’ in beverages,” Riley said. “What triggered this in the first place is that the patent office has such broad categories of services. The beverage category includes everything from soda pop and beer to energy drinks.”
The Rock Art Brewery is in the process of applying for a federal trademark for The Vermonter, and Riley said Nadeau has offered something of a truce to Hansen.
“He’s offered to agree that he won’t make any nonalcoholic beverages,” Riley said. “We’re in negotiations but neither side has made a binding, legal offer.”
Trademark attorney Diane Reed, who represents Hansen, did not return calls for comment.
As for Wallace, he found some humor in the Philadelphia Wine School’s trademark predicament.
“The juxtaposition of these two concepts — wine and guys jumping around in masks and things like that — is just a funny thing,” he said.
This story originally appeared in The National Law Journal, an IP Law & Business sibling publication.