Second Circuit Puffs on Woodstock Trademark Fight

Over 50 years after the seminal music festival, a federal appeals court considered competing claims to use the name for the sale of recreational marijuana.

The band Quill plays on stage at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in Bethel, N.Y., on August 16, 1969. (Photo by Lisa Law courtesy of National Museum of American History via Courthouse News)

MANHATTAN (CN) — The Second Circuit heard spirited debate Monday on recent efforts by the Woodstock Music Festival to cash in on the cannabis craze now that pot’s crossover from counterculture to mainstream is somewhat cemented.

Woodstock Ventures LLC, the brand behind the 1969 festival synonymous with sex, drugs and rock and roll, made its first sale of Woodstock-branded cannabis on Dec. 16, 2016, in Colorado — an early adopter of the legalization movement.

Less than a year and a half later, it accused an entity called Woodstock Roots of trademark infringement. It was back in 2013, however, that Woodstock Roots had registered a trademark for “smokers’ articles” — think rolling papers. The company counterclaimed against Woodstock Ventures and it appealed to the Second Circuit when U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe refused to order injunctive relief in 2019.

At oral arguments Monday in Manhattan, Duane Morris attorney Andrew Sprel, arguing for Woodstock Roots, emphasized that his client’s use of the Woodstock name dates back to the 1980s.

U.S. Circuit Judge Susan Carney questioned Sprel on Gardephe’s finding that there would be no confusion for consumers in differentiating between the two companies.

Sprel pushed back, calling his argument a simple one: “Ventures using the trademark for cannabis infringes on smoker’s articles.”

On the other side, Hunton Andrews Kurth attorney Edward Colbert said Woodstock Ventures has the better claim when it comes to expanding into the cannabis market.

Colbert said there is no issue of trademark infringement on their part because they are not offering the same products.

“It’s not smoker’s articles versus smoker’s articles,” said Colbert. “It’s smoker’s articles versus cannabis. They’re not the same thing.”

Sprel declined to comment on the matter, and Colbert did not immediately respond to email seeking comment.

Rounding out Monday’s pael were U.S. Circuit Judge William Nardini and U.S. District Judge Lewis Liman, sitting by designation from New York’s Southern District.

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