Trademark Battle Over ‘demerara Gold’

Guyana is in court battles in Canada and the United States, following lawsuits filed by a Canadian company owned by a Guyanese-born man, but now operated by his two sons over the trademark ‘Demerara Gold’.
The sons of Lionel Bedessee, owners of Bedessee Imports Inc, filed the legal action  after the Guyanese government, through Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud,  accused the company of deceit in using the name “Demerara” and a map of Guyana on sugar products that were not made from Guyanese sugar..
Bedessee Imports Ltd was founded by Lionel Bedessee, who went to Canada from Guyana in 1971. In 1977, he started a retail store selling Caribbean food on Queen Street West in Toronto and from that store, the business has grown and prospered to the extent that at present it  operates from a 46,000 square foot warehouse and manufacturing facility in Scarborough. Bedessee Imports Inc. was incorporated on September 23, 1985 to carry on the same business in the United States.  It has a warehouse in Brooklyn, New York and a wholesale outlet in Florida, both of which are now managed by the founder’s sons.
The products marketed by Bedessee include raw cane sugar from Mauritius, which it sells under the trademark ‘Demerara Gold’. The label contains a map of Guyana. Bedessee also markets a brown sugar product described as ‘Guyanese Pride,’ which also has a map of Guyana on the label. Neither product contains Guyanese Demerara sugar.
The right to use the name ‘Demerara’ in relation to sugar products is not a recent controversy. In a matter before the English Kings Bench Division in 1913 case (Anderson vs Britcher), the respondent was charged with unlawfully selling as ‘Demerara sugar’ a sugar that was “cane sugar crystals coloured with an organic dye foreign to genuine Demerara sugar, so that the sugar was not of the quality, substance, or nature of the article demanded by the purchaser.”
It was found that the sugar was a crystallized cane sugar grown in Mauritius and coloured with dye. The magistrate had dismissed the charge, finding that the term ‘Demerara sugar’ was a “… generic term applicable to any sugar of the substance, kind, and colour of the sugar in question wherever produced, and that therefore the said sugar was of the nature, substance, and quality of the article demanded by the appellant, the purchaser, and that accordingly the sale was not to his prejudice, and that no offence had been committed by the respondent.”
The matter was appealed but dismissed.   
Bedessee has been using the name ‘Demerara Gold’ as a trademark for sugar and other products in Canada and the United States since 1984. Until 2003, GuySuCo sold its sugar “nameless” in unlabeled 50 kg. bags to buyers, primarily in the Caribbean. In April 2003, GuySuCo launched its first branded sugar for the retail trade, which it called ‘Demerara Gold’, the same name used by Bedessee.
In October 2003 GuySuCo wrote to Rayman Bedessee, and invited him to submit an application for distributorship of GuySuCo’s ‘Demerara Gold’ product in Canada. Bedessee replied that although he would be happy to buy bulk sugar from GuySuCo, the brand [‘Demerara Gold’] was owned and used in Canada by his company, Bedessee Imports Ltd: “It is a trademark. We would be unable to use your mark, and you will be unable to sell your brand to anyone in Canada and USA,” said Bedessee.
Shortly after the launch of its brand,  GuySuCo applied to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office to register the mark. This prompted an opposition by Bedessee, which later applied to register the same mark. GuySuCo in turn filed an opposition to Bedessee’s application.
GuySuCo subsequently abandoned its Canadian application for registration of “Demerara Gold” as its trade mark.
In its lawsuit, Bedessee Imports Ltd has charged GuySuCo and the Government of Guyana with”distributing, promoting and selling the infringingly marked Demerara Gold goods in the United States commerce with knowledge of Bedessee’s superior and established rights to the distinctive Demerara Gold mark and name for the purposes of trading upon Bedessee’s goodwill and reputation, creating in consumers’ minds an association with Bedessee and giving GuySuCo’s goods a salability they otherwise would not have.”
(Compiled with material from the Stabrokek News)

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