The Ceres-based Bronco Winery is being taken to court next month over an alleged infringement of the "Six Degrees" trademark by Waugh Family Wines.
The Napa based company filed a federal lawsuit saying Bronco infringed on its "Six Degrees" wine brand used since 2005. They claim that Bronco stole the trademark when it came up with "6° Six Degrees" brand in 2013.
Ryan Waugh, owner of Waugh Family Wines, said the alleged infringement has had "long-term, irreversible damage" to his ultra-premium brand cabernet sauvignon, a wine which retails for $150 a bottle. He said Bronco's 6° Six Degrees brand, meanwhile, consists of higher-volume, lower-cost pinot noir, chardonnay and rosé varietals, retailing for $10 to $15 a bottle, potentially wreaking havoc on the value of Waugh's own brand and creating confusion in the marketplace.
"My wife and I are sickened by the long-term implications of Bronco's use of the 6° Six Degrees brand, which is mass-produced and sold at pennies on the dollar compared to our ultra-premium brand," said Waugh in a press release.
Waugh said early last year he began receiving phone calls, emails and in-person requests for varietals he has never produced under the Six Degrees brand. A Google search led to the discovery of Bronco Wine Co.'s Six Degrees Cellars.
He said "Bronco's model is like the antithesis of our brand. It undermines our ability to market a high-end specialty product and threatens the reputation and long-term vitality of our family business."
Waugh went on to say that "it is hard to believe that so many years after creating and perfecting our Six Degrees brand, Bronco created their Six Degrees brand without any knowledge of our operation. Waugh Family is search-engine optimized, so a simple Google search would have quickly raised a red flag. Bronco could have then investigated and either reached out to us or ceased any additional brand development."
Waugh noted several issues with Bronco's 6° Six Degrees brand, compounding the alleged confusion in the marketplace. Waugh's label spells out "Six Degrees" whereas Bronco Wine uses both the "6°" and "Six Degrees" titles.
Waugh's alleges that Bronco is perpetuating the misleading "Napa" labeling on its wines, for example, by designating its products as originating with "6° Six Degrees Cellars, Napa, California." While Bronco and its related companies do possess operational facilities in Napa, Bronco's 6° Six Degrees wine is allegedly not comprised of any Napa wine, and Waugh contends that the "Napa" designations are misleading, pointing to further representations of the Bronco 6° Six Degrees pinot noir product as a Napa Valley appellated wine in advertising, on numerous websites, restaurant wine lists, menus and the like, which Waugh included in its federal complaint.
Waugh noted that after reaching out and establishing his prior use of the Six Degrees trademark, Bronco has rebuffed requests to terminate the 6° Six Degrees brand, suspend sales or offer reasonable compensation or other corrective action for the alleged trademark infringement to Waugh Family.
"Even if this was an honest mistake by Bronco, we brought it to their attention back in June, gave them our financials and laid it all out for them to prevent any further damages to our brand, and allow us to move forward just as we'd done for the preceding seven or eight years," said Waugh. "But despite us bringing this to their attention and asking them to remedy the situation, it's business as usual. They have not stopped selling their 6° Six Degrees product. To me, the infringement is now intentional, even if it did not begin that way."
The 6° brand, owned by Panther Rock Wine Co. and not Bronco, has been sold nationwide for "a number of years" and is a registered U.S. trademark.
Bronco's legal representative, Peter Brody of Ropes & Gray LLP in Washington, D.C. said the two brands are "readily distinguishable by the consumer" and neither Waugh nor his company previously objected to the registration or the brand.
"The 6° brand, which is owned and managed by Panther Rock Wine Company, not Bronco Wine Company, has been in nationwide use for a number of years and is a registered U.S. trademark," said Brody in an email to the Courier. "Mr. Waugh did not object to the Panther Rock brand or the trademark registration until recently. The Panther Rock brand and Mr. Waugh's brand are readily distinguishable by the consumer, and Panther Rock is unaware of any consumer confusion between the two brands. Panther Rock will firmly defend its rights in its brand against this belated and unwarranted attack and expects to prevail."