Supreme Court to Rule on Whether Lanham Act Governs FDA-Regulated Products

The US Supreme Court has agreed to rule on whether the federal Lanham Act governs a case involving labeling of a product regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

POM Wonderful LLC and Coca-Cola Co. are engaged in a dispute over Coca-Cola’s labeling of a drink as “pomegranate blueberry juice.”

The drink’s label says “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices,” and the first two words are in bigger letters.

POM, which makes its own pomegranate-based juice drinks, claims that Cola-Cola misled consumers into believing that the Coca-Cola drink contained mostly pomegranate and blueberry juice.

POM claims that the label is misleading because the drink actually contains only .3% pomegranate juice and .2% blueberry juice.  Apple and grape juice are 99% of the drink’s ingredients.

Coca-Cola says the drink’s label is accurate in that it tells consumers that the drink is a fruit juice blend and tastes like pomegranate and blueberry.

A district court had ruled in favor of Coca-Cola.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, found that POM might have standing to pursue state-law claims against Coca-Cola but upheld the lower court’s decision against POM on federal law grounds.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether the Ninth Circuit erred in concluding that POM, as a private entity, was not allowed to file a complaint under the Lanham Act since the juice drink was regulated by the FDA under the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

The federal Lanham Act prohibits false designations of origin (including counterfeit trademarks), false descriptions, and trademark dilution.   It forbids misrepresentations about “the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin” of “goods, services, or commercial activities.”

The Ninth Circuit had said that “we must respect the FDA’s apparent decision not to impose the requirements urged by Pom.”

The case is expected to be decided by the end of June.

Stay up-to-date on the latest Intellectual Property Law news from Sheldon Mak & Anderson.

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