A venture capital firm in Cherry Creek that fought a trademark battle against Philip Morris two decades ago is now suing a similar-sounding competitor for the same reason.
Altira Group was founded in Denver in 1996. It should not be confused with Altira Capital, which was founded in New York in 2021. But it sometimes is, according to the local firm.
In a lawsuit filed May 9 in Denver federal court, Altira Group accuses Altira Capital of infringing on trademarks that the Denver firm has held since the 1990s by using an “identical and confusingly similar” name. This was done “with an intent to mislead and deceive customers” and has caused Altira Group to lose control “over its name and reputation,” the lawsuit alleges.
Altira Capital did not respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit.
Altira Group claims that there are real-world consequences when people confuse the two venture capital firms because Altira Capital “is or has been in discussions with Colorado municipalities in connection with a project to install fiber cable infrastructure.”
An attorney for Altira Group, James Beard with the Denver office of the national law firm Merchant & Gould, declined to give BusinessDen examples of a mixup, but there is some evidence that people can confuse the two. The Colorado Bar Association’s website wrongly refers to Altira Group founder Dirk McDermott as head of Altira Capital.
Altira Group is asking U.S. Magistrate Judge Kato Crews to prohibit Altira Capital from using the Altira name. The Denver firm also seeks punitive damages of three times the dollar amount that the infringement has cost Altira Group. Beard would not say what that amount is.
This is not Altira’s first legal dispute over its name. In late 2001, McDermott and Altira Group sent a letter to Philip Morris, the massive and much-maligned tobacco company behind Marlboro cigarettes, demanding that Philip Morris not rename itself Altria.
“We worked extremely hard on first coming up with the name Altira and then making sure that we maintained the integrity of the name,” McDermott told the Denver Post then. “We are not going to sit back and let a company like Philip Morris steal our name.”
Altira followed that threat up with a lawsuit in December 2001 but a settlement was approved 10 months later, on Halloween 2002, that allowed Altria to become the name of the holding company for Philip Morris and several other brands.
In 2005, Altira Group sued AltaTerra Partners, a California venture capital firm, for allegedly violating Altira’s trademark with its “confusingly similar name.” Altira claimed that its “famous” name was being diluted by AltaTerra. The case was settled that same year.