Nutrition consultant SportFuel says Gatorade's new marketing campaign stepped on its trademark

By Jonathan Bilyk | Aug 4, 2016

A nutrition consulting firm in Chicago’s western suburbs, which says it has worked with several Chicago professional sports teams and other “elite” athletes and athletic organizations “worldwide,” has sued Pepsico and Gatorade, saying one of the companies’ newer Gatorade marketing slogans has ripped off the consulting firm’s name and identity.

On Aug. 4, Western Springs-based SportFuel Inc. filed suit in Chicago federal court, alleging makers of energy beverages and food products violated SportFuel’s trademark rights under federal law.

The lawsuit is centered on Gatorade’s national marketing campaign, under which Gatorade has billed itself as “The Sports Fuel Company.” The campaign, according to the complaint, was applied to Gatorade’s line of whey protein powder, whey protein bars, shakes, “energy chews,” “Fuels” bar, “Sports Fuels Drink,” “Thirst Quencher Powder” and other products.

SportFuel said Gatorade opted to brand its marketing campaign, despite knowing it could confuse consumers into believing SportFuel had endorsed the products or had otherwise agreed to allow Gatorade to trade on its name.

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According to the complaint, SportFuel has been in business since the early 1990s, developing “customized nutrition programs, including … nutrition assessment, nutritional testing, coaching and recommendations for diet and lifestyle changes, homeopathics, herbs, vitamins, minerals and specific supplement formulations” over the past two decades. Past clients purportedly included the Chicago Blackhawks, White Sox, Bears and Bulls, as well as Northwestern University’s varsity athletic squads.

According to the lawsuit, SportFuel’s owner and founder, Julie Burns, had long worked with Gatorade, purportedly serving on a Gatorade advisory board and providing “various consulting services for Gatorade” from 1995-2003.

Sportfuel’s lawsuit said it holds federal trademarks, under its corporate name, both for its consulting services, and for lines of “dietary supplements and sports drinks enhanced with vitamins.”

In its lawsuit, Sportfuel has asked the court to issue an injunction blocking Pepsico and Gatorade from continuing to use the “Sports Fuel Company” campaign and to order the defendants to pay SportFuel unspecified compensatory damages, including “all gains, profits and advantages received” by the food and beverage makers, as well as unspecified punitive damages, plus attorney fees.

SportFuel is represented in the action by attorneys Raymond P. Niro and Kyle D. Wallenberg, of Niro McAndrews LLC, of Chicago, and attorney Vincent Pinelli, of Burke Burns & Pinelli, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Burke Burns & Pinelli Ltd. Niro McAndrews LLC

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