Elon Musk is getting into the distilled beverage business, at least that is what he said in a recent tweet. What appeared to start a little more than a joke – with an October 12th tweet that stated, “Teslaquila coming soon,” followed by a “visual approximation” of what a Tesla-made tequila logo and bottle would look like – has turned into something of a bona fide early-stage venture for the eccentric South African-born billionaire behind Tesla, Space X, and the Boring Company.
It turns out, Musk’s tweets followed from an October 8 filing with the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office (“USPTO”) and other national trademark offices (including those in Mexico, the European Union and Jamaica), in which Palo Alto-based Tesla, Inc. is named on a trademark application for registration for Teslaquila. The application – which was filed in an “intent to use” basis, meaning that Tesla, Inc. has not yet begun using the trademark in commerce but intends to – claims preliminary rights in the name for use on “distilled agave liquor.”
While the application is still in the earliest stages of examination by the USPTO (i.e., it has been deemed to meet “the minimum filing requirements,” but has not yet been assigned to an trademark examiner), it is already facing pushback from an unrelated entity: Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council.
The Zapopan, Mexico-based Tequila Regulatory Council, which is a professional organization comprising all actors and production staff associated with the Tequila production, has spoken out, indicating its intention to fight Musk’s use and registration for the “Teslaquila.”
Much like how Champagne, Porto wine, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and Manuka honey (if New Zealand lobbyists are successful), among other goods, are covered by Protected Geographical Status laws (meaning that only sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of France, distilled spirits from the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal, and cheese from certain regions in Italy may be labelled as such), Tequila enjoys similar protections.
Just last year, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the arm of the USPTO responsible for hearing and deciding certain kinds of trademark cases, including opposition and appeals, decided that the term tequila is not merely a generic name for a type of liquor, but a “designation of geographic origin." Practically speaking, the precedential decision meant that the Tequila Regulatory Council (which as a party to the case) could register the word tequila as a certification mark with USPTO and set conditions for others’ use of it in Mexico and the U.S.
This means that Musk’s impending alcohol venture – and its ability to call the beverage tequila – will depend on whether or not its ingredients meet the standards set forth by the Tequila Regulatory, which asserted this week in a statement that “the “name ‘Teslaquila’ evokes the word Tequila ... (and) Tequila is a protected word.”
It further noted, “If Tesla, Inc. wants to make Teslaquila viable as a tequila it would have to associate itself with an authorized tequila producer, comply with certain standards and request authorization from Mexico’s Industrial Property Institute. Otherwise it would be making unauthorized use of the denomination of origin for tequila.”