- The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will rule on a 13-year-old trademark case regarding Coca-Cola's claim to the word "zero" for its products like Coke Zero and Sprite Zero. Dr Pepper Snapple Group, with its own diet beverage named Zero, challenged this trademark in 2007.
- Coca-Cola has attempted to trademark "zero" in other markets, namely Canada and the U.K., but regulators denied both of those attempts after PepsiCo stepped in to oppose the trademark.
- Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper Snapple completed arguments in December, and regulators could hand down a ruling before summer, based on prior trademark cases, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.
If Coca-Cola wins this trademark, the company will have more ammunition to go after competitors, particularly Dr Pepper’s Diet Rite Pure Zero. Having more than one product with the same "Zero" name can dilute Coca-Cola's brand, and in terms of the popularity of Coke Zero, it's crucial that the brand remain as intact as possible.
Coca-Cola's key argument in the trademark case is that "'zero,' when used as part of a beverage brand, is 'exclusively associated' with its products because of 'extensive advertising, promotion and sales.' When consumers see 'zero' on a bottle or can, they think of its company-owned brands," The Wall Street Journal reported. Dr Pepper Snapple argues that such a trademark would grant Coca-Cola a monopoly for the common English meaning of a common English word, and "zero" is merely a concise way of saying zero calories.
Coke Zero has been a bright spot in an otherwise tough diet soda market for Coca-Cola and other producers. Diet Coke saw a 6% decline in sales volumes globally last quarter, but Coke Zero's 6% increase offset its fellow diet soda's loss. Despite declining sales, Diet Coke is still the global leader in the category with a 4.8% share of the overall soda market, but Coke Zero is gaining, having increased its share from 0.5% to 3% over the past decade, per Euromonitor.
Coke Zero has one critical positive going for it. By not containing the word "diet" in its name, Coke Zero doesn't drive away consumers looking to avoid "diet" products, particularly soda, as consumers are turning away from artificial sweeteners. That's why securing this trademark is so important for Coca-Cola as it tries to maintain a foothold in the otherwise ailing diet soda market.