MoMA vs MoMaCha: NY art museum sues matcha cafe over name

MoMaCha displays modern and contemporary works of art, and appears to have become known mainly for being sued by The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

NEW YORK (NYTimes)- The Museum of Modern Art in New York, known as MoMA and founded in 1929, owns about 200,000 works of modern and contemporary art, and is regarded as one of the world's leading cultural institutions.

MoMaCha, a cafe and exhibition space in New York, opened this year, displays modern and contemporary works of art, and appears to have become known mainly for being sued by MoMA.

A dispute between the two began late last year, according to the museum, when a company related to the cafe submitted a "MOMACHA" trademark application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, then followed up with an application for "MOMA". Then, in April, the MoMaCha cafe opened on the Bowery, serving matcha tea and exhibiting artworks. The cafe's logo, in its font and graphic presentation, was similar to the one used by the museum, at least as far as MoMA officials were concerned. They sent a letter to the cafe demanding changes, to no avail.

Last month MoMA filed a trademark infringement and dilution lawsuit in US District Court in Manhattan. The cafe, the museum's lawyers wrote, was "targeting the very visitors that frequent MoMA's museum, stores, and restaurants" and hoping to confuse them into believing that the cafe and museum had some connection. The lawyers added that the cafe was "perhaps even hoping for some free publicity when MoMA inevitably takes additional steps to stop this blatant infringement".

The museum asked the court to stop the company that operates the cafe from using "MOMA" or "MOMACHA" and to issue a judgment refusing the pending trademark applications related to services of an art gallery and cafe goods.

This month, the cafe filed a response indicating that it had no plans to abandon its name, saying that it was a combination of the words "more" and "matcha," not "MoMA" and "cha". The cafe's lawyers said that it was unlikely anyone would confuse their client with the museum. But, they added, the cafe had taken steps to alleviate the possibility of confusion, changing its formatting from MoMaCha to MOMACHA, using a new font and announcing "We have no affiliation with the Museum of Modern Art or any Museum" on its front door and menus.

In an assessment that may be additionally irksome to MoMA, lawyers for the cafe wrote that its abbreviated name was "conceptually and visually weak". "The MoMA's marks are nothing more than four letters written in black and white, the colours ordinarily used to convey written words, in a font that is nearly identical to the widely available and commonly used Franklin Gothic font," the lawyers wrote.

They added another potential dig, writing that while their clients sell original works to "serious art buyers," MoMA sells reproductions, or "souvenirs en masse."

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