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Denver Company Loses Name Battle

June 19, 2002

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DENVER (AP) _ Venture capital firm Altira Group has lost the first round in its battle to keep tobacco giant Philip Morris from changing its name to one closely resembling Altira.

New York-based Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company and majority owner of Kraft Foods, wants to change its name to Altria Group to differentiate the parent company from its tobacco holdings, which have been subject to numerous lawsuits.

Shareholders overwhelmingly approved the change in April.

The Denver company had asked a federal judge to block the name change until it has a chance to argue its case at trial.

U.S. District Judge John Kane denied the request for a preliminary injunction Tuesday. A trial has not yet been scheduled.

Altira officials argue that the similarity between the names would turn away customers who confuse the companies and object to tobacco.

Kane ruled that Altira had not proved its argument.

``This is a unique case where the potentially confused consumers are a limited and highly sophisticated group of investors whose business and investments are solicited and coddled on an individual basis,″ Kane wrote.

Trademark regulations do not bar sound-alike names, but bar names that cause confusion between companies.

During a three-day hearing before Kane, Philip Morris attorneys argued that the similarity between the names is not overwhelming and that a distinctive logo would usually accompany the word Altria.

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