Would You Like Your Corona with Lime, or With a Cough?
When you hear or see the word “corona,” what do you think of? Until two months ago, the word “corona” likely sparked visions of a warm beach, the sun blazing, holding a nice cold bottle of beer with a lime. Today, hearing the word “corona” incites a panic; it is no longer a drink, but has become a pandemic the world is rushing to find an answer on how to stop. With such different reactions to the same word, how have the two interacted since the outbreak of the coronavirus?
According to Snopes.com, “As fears of a world-wide COVID-19 pandemic caused by a new coronavirus from China spread across the globe, many Western news outlets began running stories suggesting that consumers were shunning the popular Mexican brand of beer called Corona due to their mistakenly connecting it with the coronavirus.”1 Due to Corona beer’s strong name recognition, media outlets jumped at unfounded rumors that the beer brand has struggled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Corona’s name recognition comes from its strong trademark. A trademark is a “word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others,”2 for example, “brand names, slogans, and logos.”3 While Constellation Brands,4 owner of Corona, have registered the trademark for Corona,5 registration is not necessary, as a company can “establish common law rights in a mark based solely on use of the mark in commerce, without a registration.”6
While the coronavirus may have caused this outbreak of misinformation, there is no remedy for a breach of trademark by Constellation Brands, nor has there been any speak of such infringement by the company. A trademark has been infringed upon when there is an “unauthorized use of a trademark or service mark (or a substantially similar mark) on competing or related goods and services.”7 Here, there is no infringement, as the use of corona is not for a competing good. Coronaviruses, though not the same as the one devastating our population currently, have been so characterized since the 1960s, and are just a type of respiratory virus.8
While there is no trademark infringement by the virus, rumors and talk of corona beer have run rampant since the outbreak began at the beginning of the year. Not only are the rumors that the beer is struggling unfounded, but sales have actually increased by 5%.9 While name recognition could have harmed the brand, in this case, it gave rise to parody, leading to free advertising for the company. Corona beer-coronavirus memes—which are “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media”10—have gone viral since the outbreak began.11 Such images, which are not meant to cause harm, but rather to make light of a dark situation and have fun with the play on words, are a form of unpaid advertising that can help boost the company’s sales, rather than harm them: “Perhaps the most valuable asset that any marketer can have is earned media—coverage and brand promotion achieved via free coverage and conversation whose value far outstrips any official media investment.”12
While Corona may be unwilling to make an official statement as to the interplay on social media of its brand and the virus,13 that does not mean that the company does not welcome the additional free advertising. Since there is little that Constellation Brands can do in regards to their trademark and the similarity in names with the virus, all the company can do now is hope that its sales continue to grow and trust that consumers recognize there is no relation between the virus and a nice cold Corona with lime.
David Mikkelson, Did Corona Beer Sales Drop Sharply Due to Fear About the Coronavirus?, Snopes.com (Mar. 2, 2020), https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/corona-beer-fear-coronavirus [https://perma.cc/D8YY-VAYH].↩
Trademark, Patent, Or Copyright?, U.S. Pat. & Trademark Off., https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-getting-started/trademark-basics/trademark-patent-or-copyright [https://perma.cc/2GUS-46YN].↩
Hannah Prokop, Coronavirus Has Not Affected Corona Beer Sales, Company Says, CSP (Mar. 2, 2020), https://www.cspdailynews.com/beverages/coronavirus-has-not-affected-corona-beer-sales-company-says [https://perma.cc/N6R7-RLT9].↩
U.S. Pat. & Trademark Off., Trademark Electronic Search System: Corona, http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4805:9a9aqa.2.10.↩
Trademark, Patent, Or Copyright?, U.S. Pat. & Trademark Off., https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-getting-started/trademark-basics/trademark-patent-or-copyright [https://perma.cc/5MPC-WQCF].↩
Is It Trademark Infringement?, Nolo, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/is-it-trademark-infringement [https://perma.cc/FD3F-GFSZ].↩
Jeffrey S. Kahn, History and Recent Advances in Coronavirus Discovery, 24 Pediatric Infectious Disease J. (Nov. 2005), https://journals.lww.com/pidj/fulltext/2005/11001/history_and_recent_advances_in_coronavirus.12.aspx [https://perma.cc/77QU-JDHM].↩
Mikkelson, supra note 1.↩
Meme, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meme [https://perma.cc/NB68-V2VZ].↩
‘Now With Extra Virus’: Memes Go Viral As Online Searches Soar For ‘Corona Beer Virus’, CBS L.A. (Feb. 28, 2020, 12:11 PM), https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2020/02/28/coronavirus-corona-beer-virus-cdc-meme [https://perma.cc/HU4R-JSZA].↩
Jeff Beer, Why Corona Beer’s Silence Is The Best Possible Response To Coronavirus Memes and Discussion, Fast Company (Mar. 4, 2020), https://www.fastcompany.com/90471294/why-corona-beers-silence-is-the-best-possible-response-to-coronavirus-memes-and-discussion [https://perma.cc/PEY8-8FNJ].↩