Madison chocolatier sued by Mars Inc. for trademark infringement
Syovata Edari was at peace when she walked away from her career as a criminal attorney last year to open an artisanal chocolate company in a tiny East Side kitchen and showcase her handmade flavor creations.
“This is my refuge,” Edari said, standing in front of a tiny glass counter that holds her bonbons, truffles and specialty chocolate designs, such as ladies’ high-heeled shoes. “This is where I come to escape. This is my heaven.”
But that changed last week when she learned that candymaker Mars Inc., is suing her and her chocolate company, CocoVaa, in federal court for trademark infringement.
Holding the complaint in her hand, Edari said, “This is what I was trying to get away from.”
Mars is suing because it believes CocoVaa is “confusingly similar” to Mars’ CocoaVia product, a dietary and nutritional supplement, according to the complaint filed in the Eastern District of Virginia. Mars, which has its headquarters in McLean, Virginia, is seeking all of CocoVaa’s profits as well as punitive damages.
Trademark attorney Craig Fieschko, who wrote Edari’s reply to Mars’ cease-and-desist letter that preceded the complaint, called it a classic case of “trademark bullying.”
Edari, 45, is vowing to fight it, and plans to represent herself and her company. Most trademark infringement cases end up settling, but Edari wants to take the case to a jury because she believes the specifics of the case are strongly in her favor.
She also has experience as a federal public defender in Kansas and the state of Washington. “I always fought for the underdog. This is no different,” she said. “This case is absurd.”
Fieschko doesn’t think Mars has a case because the products operate in different consumer spheres.
“It’s like connecting a vitamin with a candy. Their names might be similar but they just don’t go together,” Fieschko said. “It’s like Delta. There’s Delta faucets, Delta Airlines, Delta Dental. Nobody connects them.”
Mars boasts that CocoaVia is the industry’s leading cocoa extract supplement. It’s sold in powder and capsule form for dietary and nutritional supplements and is sold in GNC stores and in the vitamin aisles at Walgreens.
“Nobody would mistake it for candy and it’s not sold with candy,” Fieschko said. “The packaging and pricing are extremely different.”
Edari, a criminal attorney for 15 years, turned her chocolatiering hobby into a side business in 2014 after local law firms hired her to handle their holiday gifting.
Last year, she exhausted her savings and her retirement fund to train in southeastern France and start CocoVaa Chocolatier. Her federal trademark for CocoVaa — the Vaa being a play on her father’s pet name for her — was official March 14. “The name is very relevant,” Edari said. “It’s personal.”Prior to registering CocoVaa, Edari checked out any names that could potentially file trademark infringement lawsuits against her. She found two: A chocolate house in Washington, D.C., that had sold Cocova but were no longer selling it, and an interior design company in London that sold Cocovara, which had nothing to do with chocolate candy.
“I thought I was in the clear,” she said. “It wasn’t like I did this willy-nilly. I exercised my due diligence.”
Last September, Mars sent Edari the cease-and-desist letter and didn’t respond to her response that was written by Fieschko, said Edari, who never thought about it again because Mars didn’t do anything legally to oppose the registration before the December deadline.
“Mars said they had to sue me to protect their brand. If that’s true, why didn’t they file an objection before the deadline? Why didn’t they call me to work something out?” Edari said. “This could have been sorted out during the registration period.”