Last year lawyer Michael J. Kline told two brand managers for Coca-Cola Classic that they could sue their company’s calorie-free soda brand, Coca-Cola Zero, for “taste infringement.”
And it’s all on camera, too. But lest you think Kline should be sent back to law school — where they teach that class about how it’s a bad idea to sue your own company for nonexistent intellectual property violations — remember not to believe everything you see on television, YouTube or even a Coke Web site.
Those are the venues where you can watch Kline, a senior litigation counsel for intellectual property in Coke’s legal department, and some of his unwitting colleagues listen to the bizarre grievances of a pair of brand managers who claim that no-calorie Coke Zero tastes so much like sugary Coke Classic that they should be able to bring some kind of legal action.
In the commercials, Kline and in-house lawyers Elizabeth Finn Johnson and James M. Koelemay Jr., as well as Dalton, Ga., attorney Robert A. Cowan react with varying degrees of amusement, disbelief and, in Johnson’s case, incredulous outrage at the suggestion of the brand managers.
“You don’t have valid claim!” Johnson shouts at one point.
What the lawyers didn’t know at the time was that the litigious brand managers were really improvisational actors Bob Beuth and Bill Glass of Los Angeles, that they were being filmed and that this was all part of a marketing campaign to promote Coke Zero.
In the old days, the lawyers would have been victims of Allen Funt’s “Candid Camera.” In today’s language, the Coke lawyers were “punk’d.”