MoMA accuses cafe MoMaCha of infringement

The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK• Is the Museum of Modern Art in New York, commonly known as MoMA, making a storm in a tea cup after a cafe and exhibition space opened this year with the name MoMaCha?

That is the opinion of the cafe's lawyers after MoMA filed a trademark infringement and dilution lawsuit last month in a district court in Manhattan.

The museum's lawyers said the cafe 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.

MoMA, 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 also displays modern and contemporary works of art.

The dispute 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.

In April, the 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, according to MoMA officials.

They sent a letter to the cafe demanding changes, to no avail.

The museum is asking the court to stop the company that operates the cafe from using MoMaCha and issue a judgment refusing the pending trademark application related to services of an art gallery and cafe goods.

The lawyers charged that the cafe was "perhaps even hoping for some free publicity when MoMA inevitably takes additional steps to stop this blatant infringement".

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 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.

They pointed out that the museum's 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 client sells original works to "serious art buyers", MoMA sells reproductions, or "souvenirs en masse".

That opinion presumably is not MoMA's cup of tea.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2018, with the headline 'MoMA accuses cafe MoMaCha of infringement'. Print Edition | Subscribe