Look-alike issue bubbles in soft-drink world, too

If you're a young business with a hot new product, it's a good idea to keep an eye over your shoulder. That's the lesson tiny New-York-based American Natural Beverage Corporation has learned. The growing company last week decided to file a trademark infringement suit against Anheuser-Busch Companies, the nation's largest brewer, based in St. Louis.

In its suit, American Natural Beverage alleges that Anheuser-Busch is marketing ``Zeltzer-Seltzer'' in bottles with labels and logos that are remarkably similar to those on the bottles of its own Soho Natural Soda brand, which has been on the market since 1982.

American Natural Beverage's labels have the word ``Soho'' written in script with drop shadows, slanting upward from left to right, against a diamond shape composed of checkered squares. The company alleges that Anheuser-Busch's soft drink looks almost the same, with ``Zeltzer-Seltzer'' slanting upward from left to right.

The company is seeking an injunction against Busch to keep it from selling Zeltzer-Seltzer as long as it keeps the similar logo. A public relations spokesman for Anheuser-Bush refused comment, saying the brewer has a policy of not commenting on unresolved legal matters.

American Natural Beverage says it is being damaged because of the confusion, and because Anheuser-Busch products aren't the same as Soho's natural ingredient soda products.

``When you imitate someone else's trademark, or take its body of knowledge, you haven't taken anything physical away from them, but you have acquired a certain advantage,'' says Robert E. Frederick, assistant director of the Center of Business Ethics at Bentley College in Wellesley, Mass.

Also last week, Kenner Parker Toys Inc. reported that it won permanent injunctions against two companies that it said infringed the trademark on its Monopoly board game.

``If a product is not popular, nobody copies it,'' says Mr. Greenbaum, who represents Kenner Parker in attacking the continuing flow of Monopoly imitators.

``If its popular, somebody will always be out there trying to get an edge, take advantage,'' Greenbaum says. ``You can almost test to see how popular something is by how many imitators it has.''

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