In 1958, a few guys got together in Los Angeles, called themselves The Champs, and recorded a handful of songs. One of those songs – intended as the B side of a 45 single, was a catchy instrumental with a mambo beat. The song was primarily an instrumental, but the guys thought it might be fun to throw a single word in a few times for emphasis. But what word to pick? Here’s how I think it might have gone down.
The tune had a mambo beat, and the guys were sophisticated guys – so how about a word related to Cuban hooch? Maybe “rum”? Too few syllables for the spot in the song. Maybe “Bacardi”? Nothing said Cuba in the late 50s more than Bacardi rum. Nope. That apparently wouldn’t do either. Who knows – maybe they had a trademark lawyer in the recording studio to tell them that probably wasn’t a good idea. Ultimately, they stumbled on another word – the song escaped the obscurity of the B side and became a hit, and the rest is history. The word? Tequila.
Of course, tequila isn’t exactly Cuban. In fact, under the TTB’s standards of identity tequila can’t be called tequila unless it is made in Mexico. And soon, simply being made in Mexico may not be enough.
This past Monday, the Trademark Trial and Appeal board ruled that Consejo Regulador del Tequila – a Mexican industry trade group – was entitled to register TEQUILA as a certification mark. The registration – initially filed in 2003 – had been opposed by Luxco Inc. – importer of tequilas being bottled and marketed in the states under a number of brands including Azteca and Exotico – since 2009.
Following the TTAB’s ruling, Consejo Regulador del Tequila will be permitted to police the mark to ensure that products on which the TEQUILA mark appears within the United States adhere to certain production standards. This isn’t new – certification marks exist in a number of other areas. For example, the mark ROQUEFORT indicates cheese made from sheep’s milk in the caves of Roquefort, France. Similarly, PARMIGIANO REGGIANO is a certification mark indicative of cheese made in the Parmigiano Reggiano region of Italy and that complies with certain characteristics. And VIN DE BORDEAUX is a certification mark denoting wines made in the Bordeaux region of France and certified by Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux.
So what effect will the TTAB ruling have with respect to the sale of tequila in the United States? At the moment, the answer is unclear. But given the proliferation of tequila-based products in the United States (e.g., tequila infused with cinnamon) it is possible that the Consejo will seek to limit the use of the mark to products which do not include materials other than agave. The Consejo might seek to require that tequila be bottled in Mexico – rather than allowing the spirit to be sold in bulk to bottlers in the United States. It is this second possibility that may have motivated Luxco to oppose the certification mark – given that this appears to be their business model. One thing is certain, tequila will continue to be a popular spirit in the States – and the imposition of whatever additional certification of quality is intended by the Consejo will likely benefit consumers (and perhaps vex bottlers) going forward. The Champs would likely approve.