SodaStream International Ltd. (Nasdaq: SODA) first exhibited its environmental display, the cage, two years ago. The cage aims to show how many bottles and cans the average family consumes, and that they can be replaced by a single SodaStream carbonated beverages maker.
SodaStream collected the bottles and cans used in the various displays from landfill. The cages have been shown in cities in 30 countries, including in Times Square in New York and in Chicago, where it was presented by Susan Sarandon. However, it was the display at Oliver Tambo International Airport that finally drew the ire of Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO); Coca-Cola South Africa filed for a cease and desist order against SodaStream, or it would take legal action.
SodaStream has no intention of complying with the demand, and will keep the Johannesburg Airport display in place through July 8. On Friday, it brought the Cage to Coca-Cola's hometown of Atlanta to "show the citizens of Atlanta what the Coca-Cola executives do not want them, or the world, to see."
SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum told "Globes", "You should ask Coca-Cola why it is trying to silence our environmental venture. Coca-Cola apparently does not want to be exposed to the hard truth, and instead of thanking us for collecting their garbage from the Johannesburg dump, it sent us two threatening letters from attorneys. It's an empty threat. Simply garbage. Coca-Cola claims that it owns the garbage displayed, and that it's wrong for us to say, 'You pick it up'. I can understand them. They don’t like to see the display. It's really unpleasant to be faced with this reality."
Birnbaum says that Coca-Cola South Africa's legal grounds are "quite interesting and can even be argued. Coca-Cola is basically claiming that the garbage in the Cage belongs to it, and that the Cage is illegally using the company's copyright. No less important - what is trademark expiration; the moment when a company loses ownership of its trademark? In the US, there are legal precedents that make it impossible to claim ownership of garbage, and as for trademarks, the assumption is that the moment a company sells its product, it loses ownership of its trademark on it."
Trademark aside, Birnbaum knows that Coca-Cola is simply seeking excuses to prevent SodaStream from slandering it through the environmental display. "It doesn’t really matter whose garbage it is," he says. "If Coca-Cola wants to contend that the garbage belongs to it, that will only help us. I want that to happen, for Coca-Cola to take responsibility for the garbage it produces worldwide every day."
"Globes": Isn't it a bit ambitious for you to tell a company like Coca-Cola what to do?
Birnbaum: "On the contrary. I would expect a giant corporation like that to show leadership on everything related to the environment, and not need a small company like us to call it to order."
Coca-Cola is a kind of monopoly in its field. It's not clear that it really cares.
"It cares, and the proof can be seen in how the media coverage of this story has taken off. Even the local paper in Atlanta mentions it. People are angry at Coca-Cola's attempt to silence us."
You're not under pressure?
"Not at all. I won't fold and I'm not afraid. I won't lie and I'm not a thief. I'm merely saying the truth, and I hope that the world will realize this."
Birnbaum says that he is just getting started. "We didn’t start this war," he says. "The Cage is not only directed against Coca-Cola. There are a lot of other companies that could have been annoyed by it, but weren’t. The displays have been making the rounds for two years, and I don’t understand why only now tensions have arisen with Coca-Cola and because of the display in South Africa."
Can you hazard a guess?
"I don’t know. Maybe because in South Africa it's easier to protect trademarks. In general, this is a social question, not a legal one, and that's why we don’t care whether or not we'll have to remove the display or not."
You're not worried that other companies, such as PepsiCo, might follow in Coca-Cola's suit?
"I doubt it. PepsiCo is sitting quietly and hiding behind this story. It's a shame to be on the side of these polluters. A shame and a disgrace! They're doing nothing to currect the environmental damage."
You call it environmental damage. They may not see it that way.
"OK, so let the public judge. Every day, one billion cans and bottles are thrown into the garbage, and each of these bottles takes 2,000 years to decompose. It's terrible! That's what I'm saying: 'take responsibility'."
It looks like David versus Goliath.
"And who won that fight? As far as I'm concerned, I have two options: fold and capitulate, or raise my voice. I chose to raise my voice, and I am being heard."
SodaStream's share price rose 4.5% on Nasdaq on Friday to $38.84, giving a market cap of $782 million.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 24, 2012
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012