Another Seattle winery served legal papers over naming issue

SEATTLE -- What's in a name? Apparently quite a bit -- if you're a small Seattle business.

A local one-man winery is the latest in a string of area businesses to be slapped with a legal complaint over naming issues.

Scarborough Wines, a so-called "microwinery" in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood, says it received a letter from lawyers in California this week arguing there could be confusion over a name the winery uses. The attorneys represent Casa Piena, which translates to "full house" from Italian. Scarborough's wine club has several tiers named for gambling terms, including Full House.

"This is not really even a product. This is not a wine bottle. This is just a name for a club membership," said Travis Scarborough, the winery's owner and sole employee. "It's not confusing. Nobody in their right mind would find this (confusing)."

Casa Piena's owners include Carmen Policy, a former executive for the San Francisco 49ers. Representatives for the winery did not respond to requests for comment.

A letter sent by lawyers says Casa Piena owns the trademark for the term "full house."

"We understand that Scarborough Wines only produces 1,500-1,800 cases a year," the correspondence states. "However, (the company) is understandably concerned by the possibility for confusion."

Scarborough is the latest in a string of cease-and-desist battles between small Seattle wineries and breweries and their larger competitors. Earlier this month, the two-person Bartholomew Winery revealed that lawyers for Kendall-Jackson took issue with the locally-produced Jaxon label. One week prior, Ballard-based Peddler Brewing said it had been slapped with a cease-and-desist over the title of their Tangerine Wheat beer.

Wine experts say the industry is growing so rapidly that wineries are having a tough time coming up with names that aren't already protected.

"We have 860 wineries here in Washington. There's close to 10,000 wineries in the U.S., so naming, of course, is a huge challenge," said Chris Stone, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Washington State Wine Commission. "The bigger we get, the harder it becomes. There's only so many creative names out there."

Stone urged companies to use the searchable database maintained by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

"If it's out there already, you have to make a judgement whether or not it's worth it. There's a lot of larger wineries that have a lot of resources," he added. "More often than not it's just not worth the hassle. You just find a new name and move on."

Scarborough said this is the third cease-and-desist they have received over the past seven years. The first one was over a label on one of their bottles, which they ended up renaming - what else? - Cease & Desist.

"It's letter three in seven years. Getting used to it. Getting used to it," Scarborough said. "They're trying to say this is going to protect their brand and they know the little wineries can't do anything else."

"They've already won," he added, "because when they send that out they know I can't fight back."
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