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New Jersey vitamin company sued for trademark infringement

A company’s trademark is part of its lifeblood. Tremendous amounts of money are poured into coining a word, phrase or design that resonates with consumers and draw them to buy the company’s products. If a retailer can get customers to identify that slogan or image and form a positive association with the company, the trademark is considered a success.

So when another company adopts a similar trademark, there’s a danger that consumers will assume the two are affiliated. That’s the contention of natural foods grocery store chain Whole Foods Market Inc., which is suing a nutritional supplement company in North Bergen, New Jersey, for trademark infringement.

Since 2009 Whole Foods has used the trademark slogan “Health Starts Here” to promote its chain of stores and philosophy of good nutrition through its products. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database shows that the retailer registered the trademark in 2011. After Whole Foods learned that the Vitamin Shoppe was using the phrase “Core Health Starts Here,” the grocery store chain sent a cease-and-desist notice, which it says the Vitamin Shoppe ignored.

The federal lawsuit was filed in Austin, Texas, where Whole Foods is based. It seeks a ban on the Vitamin Shoppe’s use of the slogan as well as destruction of all promotional materials containing the phrase. The lawsuit also demands monetary damages, litigation costs and attorney fees.

Because the phrases aren’t exactly the same, the Vitamin Shoppe may have an argument against the trademark infringement claim. Is “Core Health Starts Here” just similar enough to “Health Starts Here” for consumers to assume the companies are affiliated? It may be up for a judge to decide where trademark ownership in this case begins and ends.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, “Whole Foods Sues Vitamin Shoppe Over ‘Health Starts Here’ Mark,” Victoria Slind-Flor, July 17, 2012

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