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Alcohol companies fight over trademark "green hat"

Two gin companies -- Greenhook Ginsmiths and New Columbia Distillers' Green Hat Gin -- have pursued litigation in New Jersey for trademark rights to the phrase "Green Hat." Both companies claim to have superior rights to the trademark. Greenhook claims that it has used the Green Hat trademark in commerce since August 2011. On the other hand, New Columbia Distillers says it filed an application for a trademark on April 22, 2011 whereas Greenhook did not file until Sept. 28, 2011.

Originally, Greenhook filed a lawsuit in New Jersey after a cease and desist letter was ignored by New Columbia Distillers. However, attorneys for Greenhook later admitted that New Jersey may not be the proper venue for the suit and claimed that they would re-file the suit in New York if necessary.

New Columbia Distillers says that their use of "Green Hat" is not confusing to consumers and cites the fact that many other liquor companies use the word green in their trademarks. Furthermore, New Columbia Distillers claim that they have not been served about the New Jersey lawsuit yet.

A trademark is a type of intellectual property right. A trademark can be a symbol, device, name or word that is used by a company to distinguish it from other similar products, goods or services. If a business has a trademark then other companies cannot use a confusingly similar mark. However, a trademark does not prevent another company from making the same good or service -- as long as a different mark is used.

In order to obtain a trademark, a business does not need to register it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office but it can. However, unless the mark is registered, it will only be valid if it is used in a legitimate business setting.

Like other forms of intellectual property, it is important for businesses to protect their trademarks.

Source: Washington City Paper, "Trademark Dispute Between Green Hat Gin and New York's Greenhook Ginsmiths," Jessica Sidman, Jan. 17, 2013

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