Branded Cups at Center of Museum Versus Tea Shop Trademark Battle
When MoMaCha opened its doors in April to serve as a combination teashop and art gallery, the higher-ups at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) found the space’s name pretty sketchy, filing a trademark infringement lawsuit. On Friday, those bigwigs were able to color their case credible, as a Southern District of New York judge preliminarily halted the newbie—whose branded cups played a central role in the case—from going by that name, using its initial logo and maintaining its original website until he renders a final verdict.
MoMA has welcomed visitors for nearly 89 years, garnering worldwide acclaim as a haven for art lovers. With such a reputation, one could expect that even the slightest hint of imitation regarding its name would incite its overseers to take legal action, and its fellow New York State occupant has become the latest in a long line of relative rookies needing to defend their branding decisions against far more renowned and revered entities. With respect to MoMaCha, which has already redubbed itself MAMACHA, the museum has painted itself as the likely victim of consumer confusion. U.S. district judge Louis L. Stanton does not appear poised to brush aside its claims, noting that, “It may later be rebutted, but on the present record, it appears that MoMaCha’s similarity to the museum’s mark was not accidental, but purposive.”
Someone could interpret the aforementioned name change, which has yielded a new logo, as some sort of admission of culpability or as simply a necessary measure to survive, as the MAMACHA crew certainly did not want to cease to offer drinks and art appreciation opportunities as the matter plays out. No matter the altered title, Stanton stated that the original MoMaCha artistic signifier remains on the establishment’s social media platforms and, more importantly from a promotional products standpoint, its branded cups. As Artnet explained, it has proven relatively easy for MoMA to have Stanton draw an early conclusion that the beverage holders are an integral part of the proceedings, as someone can construe them as undeniable physical evidence of an attempt by MoMaCha to profit from its name’s likeness to MoMA. Through its new website, though, MAMACHA explains that it has no affiliation with the Midtown Manhattan-situated art destination or any other museum.
If legal matters were that easy, MAMACHA could brew some tea, place it in the branded cups that it has since replaced and forget about the matter. However, the injunction has likely made for an interesting week for the six-month-old site, whose lawyer, Christopher B. Spuches, has argued that his clients “respectfully disagree that MoMaCha and its products infringe on any of MoMA’s intellectual property.” Verb tense might come to matter in this case. MoMA could argue that MoMaCha infringed upon its trademark by having its branded cups call upon a vertical orientation for its logo, as Stanton noted that that design decision “recalled the MoMA banner,” per Artnet.
Five days after the injunction’s release, MAMACHA, which still goes by MoMaCha on Facebook, interestingly, will likely soon see what the legal world has brewing for its future as a haunt for tea and/or art connoisseurs. If Spuches can emerge victorious for the New York neophyte, they might just have to raise a cup (one wonders which logo it will have) in his honor.