The Hollywood Reporter has the scoop on a new Watchmen lawsuit, this time arising from the movie’s coffee.
Yes, that’s right–coffee. The makers of Chock Full O’ Nuts have filed a complaint alleging that Warner Bros. and a company owned by Watchmen: Portraits photographer Clay Enos have illegally copied the coffee brand’s can design.
At issue: Nite Owl Dark Roast, a limited edition tie-in at Enos’ Organic Coffee Cartel, a social enterprise that uses its proceeds to support charity. The inspiration for the product is the scene in which people rescued from a tenement fire are served coffee on board the Owl Ship. According to the complaint, the Nite Owl can infringes Chock Full O’ Nuts’ trade dress and registered yellow-and-black checkerboard trademark.
While this will no doubt seem weak to some readers, the lawsuit actually rests on solid legal grounds. Congress and the courts have established protection for not just registered trademarks, but distinctive product design.
Unfortunately for the defendants, Enos himself has publicly described the Nite Owl Dark Roast can as “Chock Full O’ Nuts-esque.” The layout, the color, the graphics, checks and “New York’s Favorite Coffee Since” slogan are practically point-by-point knockoffs of the Chock Full O’ Nuts design.
Moreover, the fact that a portion of the proceeds are going to charity does not help. Contrary to what many appear to believe in the charitable community, the law does not give charities free rein to appropriate commercial marks.
The ultimate outcome of this lawsuit is, of course, up to the parties and the judge. However, based on the available evidence and similar cases, it’s likely to end in a settlement that will make Nite Owl Dark Roast even more of a collectible than originally designed.