Soda City market in Columbia (copy)

Shoppers at the weekly Soda City Market in downtown Columbia look over produce and vegetables. John A. Carlos II/Special to The Post and Courier/File

COLUMBIA — The effort by the city's major Saturday downtown farmers market to trademark its name, Soda City, has hit a setback in part because the nickname for Columbia might have become too popular.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has given the company that runs the popular Saturday market a set of objections in reply to its patent application. Such initial refusals are a regular part of the federal trademark process and do not bode failure for the application, said William "Corky" Klett, attorney for the market. Few applications go through without some challenge by trademark examiners, Klett said.

An applicant has six months to reply to an interim rejection, so the market will take some time to work on its next moves, Klett said.

One of the cited objections by the trademark office: Soda City now seems like such a common nickname that it cannot really be trademarked, like the name of a city itself.

Jeff Stover, a lawyer at Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd in Charleston, compares the issues to a restaurant trying to trademark the name "Charleston Restaurant." That's really a description of a location that has no unique character relating to a particular business, Stover said.

"That would likely be refused because there's nothing distinctive," Stover said.

Another issue raised by the trademark office: there's another potential trademark out there that was filed for earlier.

Soda City FC, a semi-professional soccer team, had filed earlier to trademark its name, creating the potential for a conflict. Its bid also has received preliminary objections from the trademark office as part of its application.

Soda City Market (copy)

The bottle cap logo for Soda City Market. Provided

Soda City Market filed to trademark its name in the area of operating a farmers market and similar public events, which likely would be an important distinction from the soccer club as trademark applications go forward.

The team that runs the market has said that if they do receive their trademark, they don't intend to restrict the many current uses of the name that are out there but only want to have some protection from damaging or confusing uses of the brand that might arise.

The initial refusal could be overturned on appeal, possibly by arguing that the focus of the two organizations are so different that there's no confusion in the minds of consumers, which is key issue on a trademark, said Michael Mann, an attorney with Nexsen Pruet in Columbia. 

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It's not uncommon for an initial trademark application to be refused, Mann said, or for an appeal of that initial finding to prevail and the trademark be granted.

The trademark process can be unpredictable, attorneys said. Sometimes, Mann said, when one organization gets a trademark other requests are refused. 

"Maybe Soda City FC gets there and then the door slams shut," he said.

Being rejected in the trademark application would not at all prevent Soda City Market from using its current name and logo, but simply would not give them a full legal right of trademark protection.

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