Yoko Ono Forces Polish Beverage Company to Rebrand 'John Lemon' Soda

Musician-artist threatened legal action over trademark infringement, pushing Mr Lemonade Alternative Drinks to rebrand product

Yoko Ono forced a Polish beverage company to rebrand its "John Lemon" soda after threatening legal action over trademark infringement. Credit: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images, Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Yoko Ono pressured a Polish beverage company into changing the name of its new drink, "John Lemon," with the singer-artist's legal team alleging that the product infringed upon her late husband, John Lennon's, trademark. Mr Lemonade Alternative Drinks agreed to change the name to "On Lemon" after Ono wrote to the company and its distributors across Europe, warning that continued infringement could result in violations of up to 5,000 euros ($5,998) per day and 500 euros ($600.20) per bottle sold, The Guardian reports.

The company reportedly incorporated obvious allusions to the former Beatle in their marketing materials, using the phrase "let it be" – the title of the Beatles' 1970 LP and album's title track – and a pair of round glasses, a style similar to the kind Lennon famously wore.

Lawyers representing Mr Lemonade denied exploiting the musician for financial gain, but Ono's attorneys highlighted a Facebook post from John Lemon Ireland featuring an image of Lennon holding lemons above the company logo. "They were abusing and misusing the legacy of John Lennon to sell their soda," Joris Van Manen of Ono's legal team, Dutch law firm Hoyng Rokh Monegier, told the East London Advertiser. Through a rep, Ono declined to comment.

Mr Lemonade's legal team noted that they registered their EU trademark in 2014, two years before Ono registered the John Lennon brand. But the family business – which distributes to bars and restaurants throughout the U.K. and 13 other European countries – chose to avoid risking a lengthly legal battle.

"All of us involved with this product are startups, and we couldn't take on someone who is worth many, many millions," Karol Chamera, founder of Mr Lemonade Alternative Drinks, told the East London Advertiser.

As part of the settlement, the company must sell up its stock of the John Lemon drinks by the end of October. From November 2017 forward, Mr Lemonade will rebrand the drink. 

"The company we represent was surprised by the claim," Tomasz Srokosz and Hugo Bałaziński, attorneys for Mr Lemonade, tell Rolling Stone in a statement. The legal counsel claim that "only a few days elapsed" between Ono's representatives first issuing a formal demand (via email on March 3rd, 2017) and delivering the writ of summons.  

"Our client disagreed with the claim filed by Yoko Ono," they say. "Each party had its own arguments. However, what was the most important argument from the perspective of the polish company, the trade mark 'John Lemon' is registered in EUIPO in favor of our client since 2014 and the application to register the 'John Lennon' trade mark was filed by Yoko Ono in 2016.

"Having everything in mind, in order to avoid extremely high cost of the court proceeding (especially the risk of awarding full compensation of legal representation costs in case of negative ruling) and to avoid the risk of banning the current production of the John Lemon lemonades to secure claim, our client decided to conclude a settlement," Srokosz and Bałaziński continue, adding that the settlement "took into account the interests of both parties."