A Chicago businessman has filed a lawsuit against The Coca-Cola Co., accusing the soft drinks giant of stealing the Zero brand name.

Mirza Baig, owner of Blue Springs Water Co, filed the action in an Illinois district court last Thursday (24 July) in an attempt to stop Coca-Cola from using the Zero name for its no calorie drinks.

Coca-Cola Zero alone has been one of the most successful product launches in the US soft drinks group's history, selling 450m cases worldwide last year. The firm vigorously denies the lawsuit allegations.

Baig launched a no calorie water brand called Naturally Zero in 1998 and alleges Coca-Cola knowingly took the name and mimicked the product's slogan, according to the lawsuit document seen by just-drinks.

It says Coca-Cola turned down an offer to buy Naturally Zero in early 2003, but filed an application for Sprite Zero with the US Patent and Trademark Office later that year.

Baig, who also wants Coca-Cola to hand over its profits from the Zero trademark, claims to have sold more than US$150,000 of Naturally Zero products in a number of US states.

Coca-Cola spokesperson Ray Crockett accused Baig of attempting to "intimidate" the firm by "repeatedly threatening" legal action over the last four years.

He said in a statement: "We do not believe that either Mr Baig or his company have any valid claims against The Coca-Cola Company.  In response to these repeated threats, we filed a suit against Mr Baig and his company in Atlanta several weeks ago for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, in order to resolve the issue once and for all."