Colorado tea makers’ brand dispute bubbles over in court

Amy DiPierro July 13, 2017 0

Denver’s Teatulia tea company sued the Boulder-based makers of Telula, a fruit and vegetable juice. (Telula)

Bitter is the taste of a dispute brewing between two local beverage makers.

Denver’s Teatulia tea company is suing the Boulder-based makers of Telula, a ready-to-drink fruit and vegetable juice that Teatulia says resembles its brand too closely.

In a federal lawsuit filed this week, Teatulia says food purveyor Made in Nature has mislead customers into thinking that its Telula brand is related to Teatulia. Both brands “operate in the niche world of organic products,” the lawsuit says, and “are marketed similarly, use similar sales methods, operate through similar channels of trade, target similar customers, use similar advertising methods.”

The Highlands-based tea shop argues that confusion would increase as Teatulia continues developing products.

“Importantly, Teatulia is in the process of expanding its products to include shelf stable ready-to-drink organic fruit-flavored drinks infused with tea,” Teatulia claims in the complaint. “It already began testing its fruit-flavored drinks infused with tea in 2012 in Chipotle restaurants.”

Teatulia wants a court order to block its competitor from using the Telula mark. It also wants Made in Nature to turn over Telula advertising material to Teatulia and pay triple the amount of profit it made from selling the brand’s drinks.

Wendy Goldner, VP of marketing of Made in Nature, said Teatulia had an opportunity to object to its name when the brand was filing its federal trademark application.

“We do have a registered trademark for Telula and Teatulia voiced no objections,” she said. “We don’t see a conflict at this point.”

Made in Nature is a 28-year-old Boulder snack company that makes products like kale chips and dried fruit snacks. In 2015 it released Telula, a brand of cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices. It debuted with a national launch at Kroger and Whole Foods that year, Goldner said, and today has 40,000 points of distribution in the U.S.

Teatulia has been selling tea products under that name since 2008. Aside from tea bags and loose tea products, the company also has a food service line. Its teas, which food service customers can buy in liquid form already brewed, has made the menu at chains like Chipotle, Garbanzo and Tokyo Joe’s.

Teatulia co-founder and CEO Linda Appel Lipsius referred questions to the company’s intellectual property lawyer, Jeffrey Kass with Lewis Brisbois. Kass said the key legal test isn’t whether the products are identical, but whether they’re confusingly similar.

“The two products are sold in the same stores. You can find them both, for example, in Whole Foods,” he said. “They’re both in the organic space. They’re both in the drink space. It’s not like they’re selling tires for cars and somebody else is selling tea.”

Teatulia does not sell ready-to-drink beverages in a retail setting. But Kass said the company has been testing drinks to put on store shelves for years.

“This is not a hypothetical,” he said. “This is something they’re working toward.”

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