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Posted 11/19/2007

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Alan Pepper, PhD Denied Use of Title 'Dr'

Is he a Pepper?
Old School Dr Pepper soda bottle collected by Alan Pepper PhD. The Owners of the Dr Pepper trademark are barring Alan Pepper, PhD from using the title 'Dr.'
Unrelated Links: Slurpee Drinking World Record | baby name

Spokane, WA-- Last week Alan F Pepper of Millwood, WA received a cease and desist letter from attorneys representing Cadbury Schweppes Bottling Group. The letter demands that he halt the use of the title "Dr" as a prefix to his name. The letter alleges that Mr. Pepper's use of the title 'Dr' could potential confuse consumers and dilute the famous "Dr Pepper" mark.

"Dr Pepper is a not only a trademark, but is a famous mark, recognized and marketed throughout the world. Your use of the title 'Dr' coupled with your given surname results in a moniker that confuses consumers and dilutes a famous mark," the letter reads in part.

Under the terms of The Federal Trademark Dilution Act of 1995 "all that is required is that use of a 'famous' mark by a third party causes the dilution of the 'distinctive quality' of the mark," according to www.bitlaw.com. In essence Cadbury Schweppes Bottling Group (known as Dr Pepper/Seven Up Bottling Group until June, 2006) is arguing that any use at all of the name "Dr Pepper" would decrease the uniqueness of this mark.

"Even though Alan Pepper is not in the business of bottling soft drinks, we are concerned that his bubbly, sweet, sophisticated, multifaceted personality is sufficiently analogous to the similarly sweet, carbonated mixture of 23 flavors found in Dr Pepper so as to lead to confusion," said the lead attorney representing the owners of the Dr Pepper trademark. He added, "We are further concerned by the fact that Alan Pepper's occupation puts him in close contact with the 18-25 year-old demographic, which is a demographic group that we have spent significant advertising dollars to target, and to whom we would not want out mark to become diluted or confused with any other person or group wantonly using the title of 'Dr' Pepper."

Alan Pepper, known for the past 5 years as "Prof. Pepper," only started using the title of "Dr Pepper" at the beginning of the 2007-2008 academic year. Previously he held a only Master's Degree in Social Work and had been teaching at the local Community College.

"His use of the title 'Professor' was really only a structural thing with students, as many times the title 'Professor' is reserved for college level instructors with culminating terminal degrees in their area of study," said Pepper's former supervisor.

Pepper completed his Doctorate in General Psychology (PhD) via the online program offered by Capella University (www.capella.edu) over the summer. He assumed a new undergraduate-level teaching position at a Spokane area four-year university. In his new position and with his new degree, friends and colleagues began to address Pepper using the salutation of "Dr." At first embarrassed by this jocular use of the title, Pepper later embraced its use.

"People are always impressed with the title of 'Dr.' Plus my mom always wanted me to become a doctor. This is not exactly what she had in mind, but I figured it would still make her pretty proud. So I went online and had some business cards printed up that said 'Dr Pepper - Professor of Psychology.' After I hit submit I noticed that I accidentally left off the period after the letters 'd' and 'r' but I did not think too much about it," Pepper told GA reporters. "A few days after I got the business cards in the mail, this letter showed up."

Laden with students loans from his recent doctoral studies, not to mention the loans from his undergraduate and master's degree programs, Pepper felt like he was not in a financial position to fight a legal battle over these trademark issues.

"I did a little research online about intellectual property law and soon surmised that my case is a long-shot. And even if I decided to take it to court, it would quickly become a very expensive proposition," explained Pepper.

In a similar case Dr. Peter Pepper, MD of Beverly Hills was challenged by the Dr Pepper/Seven Up Bottling Group in 1994 on similar grounds to that of Alan Pepper, but the Los Angeles area native decided to fight the case. The case went to trial and Peter Pepper's lawyer presented interesting evidence. He argued that since Dr Pepper the soft drink had formally renounced the punctuation mark of period (fullstop) from the Dr Pepper trademark in the 1950's to remove the medical connotation of the title "doctor," that opened the door for actual medical doctors to use the "Dr." abbreviation with the surname of Pepper as long as the period was intact. To refute the claims of consumer confusion, Pepper's lawyer presented clinical experiments with children ages 4-10 who overwhelmingly confused Dr. Peter Pepper with the nursery rhyme character Peter Piper. Dr Pepper/Seven Up Bottling Group objected that aside from the similar names, both Dr Pepper and Dr. Pepper (a plastic surgeon and health spa owner) left consumers "feeling refreshed, invigorated, and rejuvenated," which could lead to consumer confusion.

Ultimately the jury decided in favor of Dr. Peter Pepper, who continued to practice medicine under the tile of "Dr. Pepper" until 2006, although the court did stipulate that if Dr. Pepper wanted to consumer Dr Pepper on the premises of his medical practice he would have to remove or cover the label on the soda so as to not improper imply any sort of endorsement of his services by the makers of the soft drink.

Despite the favorable outcome for Dr. Pepper of Beverly Hills, legal counsel informed Alan Pepper that the enactment of The Federal Trademark Dilution Act of 1995 completely changed the legal landscape for his case. So, for now at least, Pepper is insisting that people address his as "Alan Pepper, PhD."

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