Elon Musk is famously ambitious and his projects often sound like science fiction, or at least somewhat futuristic. He wants to connect our brains to computers, terraform Mars, tunnel under cities, build a hyperloop, and line our roofs with barely visible solar panels.
But last month he announced a more down-to-earth endeavor—Musk plans to make Teslaquila, a tequila brand that contains his car company’s name. It turns out, however, that Musk may have an easier time getting to Mars or building the world’s largest lithium ion battery.
Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council, which strictly monitors the origins and quality of the drink at home and abroad, is unhappy with the businessman’s plans. Like champagne, which is named for a region in France that has sole rights to this appellation, tequila is not just a a beverage but a cultural production. Tequila is named after a region in Mexico and must be made in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit or Tamaulipas, among numerous other restrictions. Anything else can’t use the tequila name.
Though “Teslaquila” is a play on the name, the regulatory body says it’s too close. After Tesla filed trademark applications for the new brand, which will make an agave-based spirit and blue-agave based spirit, with the US Patent and Trademark Office and intellectual property regulators in Mexico, Jamaica and the European Union, the tequila council issued a statement:
Teslaquila’ evokes the word Tequila … (and) Tequila is a protected word. If [Tesla] wants to make Teslaquila viable as a tequila it would have to associate itself with an authorized tequila producer, comply with certain standards and request authorization from Mexico’s Industrial Property Institute.
On Nov. 14, Musk tweeted his reply to the council, saying only that he’s willing to fight “Big Tequila.”
Musk might want to pour himself a stiff drink, as it may prove to be a difficult battle indeed if Tesla doesn’t comply with the regulatory council’s strict restrictions, or do as other celebrity booze-makers do and partner with an established brand. The council’s international affairs department is in charge of protecting the “Tequila Designation of Origin” worldwide, working with the Mexican government. It has four representative offices abroad, in the US, Switzerland, Spain, and China. And these offices are empowered to police intellectual property claims internationally.
Unlike Musk, the regulatory council considers tequila much more than just another business venture or a beverage. It is a symbol of “national identity.” In other words: To mess with tequila is to mess with Mexico.