The Prince estate has spent months quietly fighting a legal battle against an Ohio winery that sells a brand of “Purple Rain” wine. Now, the winemaker has trotted out a bold new argument: That the famously teetotaling rock star would never have endorsed a bottle of alcohol.
Based just outside Youngstown, Ohio, L’uva Bella Winery has sold wines under the label “Purple Rain” since 2016. Three years ago, the company successfully registered the name as a federal trademark at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. According to its website, a Purple Rain rosé is coming soon.
But last summer, the Prince estate filed a legal action seeking to invalidate that trademark registration, arguing that L’uva Bella’s use of the name was misleading. The estate said that when consumers see the name “Purple Rain” – the title of his beloved 1984 rock musical and his sixth studio album – they would instantly (but incorrectly) think that Prince had been involved in the wine.
Such claims, filed at a federal tribunal called the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, are a common tactic for any big brand. Apple files dozens of such cases every year, as do many other major companies. Musicians are no different: Jimmy Buffet’s company recently brought a case against a “Marijuanaville,” and Rihanna’s Fenty brand filed two new cases last year. The Eagles once famously brought such claims against a real-life Hotel California.
Since Prince died in 2016, his estate has filed several cases at the trademark board. They mostly deal with others trying to register “Purple Rain” names, but cases have also been filed over “Apollonia 6” – the name of a Prince-assemble R&B trio – and “Love 4 One Another,” the name of his charitable organization. Notably, the estate’s recent mishap with longtime Prince friend and bandmate Morris Day was sparked by threats to bring such a case against him.
Five months after filing the case against L’uva Bella’s “Purple Rain” trademark, the estate moved for a final victory in January. It demanded an immediate ruling cancelling the winemaker’s trademark, arguing that the two words point “uniquely and unmistakably to Prince.”
“‘Purple rain’ is not a word in the English language. Prince chose the phrase and made it famous through a Grammy winning album, a major motion picture, a song performed around the world, and the iconic image of the late artist,” the estate’s lawyers wrote. “For the great majority of consumers, the only significance the term ‘Purple Rain’ has is to identify Prince and the image he made famous.”
Among other evidence, the estate cited a survey it commissioned that showed 65% of consumers identify the phrase with Prince. It also pointed to references in pop culture, like an April 2016 cover of The New Yorker memorializing his death that simply featured an image of purple rain drops without any text. “No words required,” the estate’s lawyers wrote.
Last month, L’uva Bella fired back. It said the estate was trying to ram the case to conclusion without allowing for proper exchange of evidence, and demanded that it be allowed take depositions and collect other information before the case moves forward.
In doing so, the winery unveiled a doozy of an argument: That consumers were unlikely to presume that the wine was connected to Prince because the rock star had famously never touched the stuff.
“The artist Prince died tragically of a drug overdose. What made his death so tragic and ironic was that he had always been an outspoken critic of any drug or alcohol use,” L’uva Bella wrote. “He regularly eschewed the use of alcohol and forbade his band members from drinking while on tour. His disdain for alcohol and drugs was publicly very well known—so much indeed that anyone having a rudimentary knowledge of Prince knows that fact.”
Because Prince was so famously booze-averse, the winery continued, it is “unreasonable that the public would assume respondent’s alcohol-containing wine goods originate with, are sponsored or endorsed by, or in any way associated with or connected to Prince.”
Whether that argument will resonate with the board remains to be seen. In subsequent filings, the estate has called the argument meritless and says L’uva Bella is trying to “unnecessarily drive-up costs and delay resolution of this dispute.” But in a response this month, the winery once again demanded to depose someone who could offer testimony on Prince’s “attitude toward alcohol” and his views on licensing his name.
A ruling will be issued in the months ahead. Neither a representative for the Prince estate nor an attorney for L’uva Bella returned requests for comment on the dispute.