Is the word "tequila" a generic term or can it be trademarked? That was the question posed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) in a case that began in 2003.
Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT) applied for the certification mark 14 years ago. Luxco Inc., a St. Louis-based distillery, filed opposition to this registration in 2009. The standoff between these two entities ended with the TTAB's decision this past January.
CRT, a Mexican industry group, is only entity to be accredited and approved by the Mexican government to ensure the authenticity, origin, quality and safety of tequila. As an accredited organization, CRT applied for the word "tequila" to be a certification mark for "distilled spirits, namely, spirits distilled from the blue tequilana weber variety of agave plant."
Despite the fact that Luxco's imported tequila has been certified by CRT as authentic and in accordance with Mexican standards, they opposed registration of this certification mark. Luxco claims that "tequila" is a generic term for a type of liquor, not restricted to a certain plant or geographic origin.
The TTAB agreed that "tequila" is not a generic term, citing an association with Mexico on the majority of tequila labels and consumers perceiving tequila as a Mexican alcoholic beverage. The board stated that the evidence "counters opposer’s assertion that Tequila is a generic term. Rather, the evidence tends to show that Tequila has significance as a designation of geographic origin."
This decision gives CRT legitimate control over the use of the the term "tequila" as a certification mark in the United States. Other companies may use it only at the discretion of CRT.