Valvoline Allowed to Oppose Start-up Brand

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Valvoline Allowed to Oppose Start-up Brand
Bottles of Valvoline motor oil in a retail display at an automotive parts store. © TonelsonProductions

A panel of judges within the United States Patent and Trademark Office ruled last week that Valvoline may proceed with a complaint attempting to prevent a start-up company from using the brand name Maxvoline to market automotive lubricants.

One of the nation’s largest engine oil marketers, Valvoline contends that that the name coined by Sunpoint International Group USA Corp. would cause confusion for consumers familiar with its Valvoline High-mileage MaxLife lubricants.

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In a July 22 opinion, the Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board denied Sunpoint’s motion to dismiss Valvoline’s complaint, ruling that the case may proceed even though the confusion argument is its only ground. A schedule for the case to be heard has not yet been set.

Sunpoint argued that the case should not proceed on those grounds because the board had commented in a previous version of the case that Valvoline had not sufficiently made its case that Maxvoline is confusing. At that time the board denied Sunpoint’s motion to dismiss only because the company had not yet tried to sell Maxvoline products.

Rather than appeal that ruling, Sunpoint dropped its motion and filed a new one after beginning to sell products under the Maxvoline name. During the second go-around, Sunpoint argued that the board should stand by its earlier comment about Valvoline failing to prove the confusion argument, but the board said the issue could be revisited for a new motion.

MaxLife has been a significant contributor to Valvoline’s profitability since the company pioneered the product category.

Valvoline is headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, while Sunpoint is based in Doral, Florida.