Kahlua’s makers in for a ‘good fight’ in trademark case against Hawaii company

(Image: Kaholo Coffee)
(Image: Kaholo Coffee)
Updated: Jan. 23, 2019 at 4:50 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A major liquor company out of Sweden, the producer of Kahlua coffee liqueurs, has blocked a Hawaii company’s bid to trademark its Kaholo Kona Coffee.

The Kaholo coffee brand was developed by local businessman Owen O’Callaghan to differentiate it from his other snack products sold by Hawaiian Happy Cakes.

O’Callaghan said he was close to final approval of the product name when he received threatening letters from a law firm representing Kahlua products manufacturer, the Absolut Company.

He responded, but the Kahlua lawyers managed to block approval for another month. It’s now been four months since the dispute began.

“We want to resolve this before we continue selling that coffee brand,” O’Callaghan said, adding that he’s using information he can find on the internet to act as his own trademark lawyer.

“The effect on me is an incredible amount of stress ... because I am not a lawyer. I cannot afford an intellectual copy right lawyer,” he said.

O’Callaghan said the dispute against a company with deep pockets has already cost him thousands of dollars.

In its complaint, Absolut Company said the term Kaholo is “virtually identical” to Kahlua “in that it begins with the letters ‘KAH’ and ends with the letter ‘L' followed by a vowel."

It said consumers might think Kaholo Coffee is connected to Kahlua’s products.

Kaholo is a Hawaiian word that means “swift” or nimble.

O’Callaghan said his own search of trademark databases turned up four other names with the same degree of similarity, and none of those were challenged.

He calls complaints like the one against Kaholo “trademark bullying” because law firms that specialize in searching for similar names offer to file challenges for larger firms that can pay to protect their names.

But he said unlike most small firms, he’s not giving in.

“Morally, I am dug in for a good fight and when have you not known an Irishman to like a good fight?” O’Callaghan said.

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