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Friday, June 25, 2010

Pork Council believes people prefer fairy tales?

Intellectual property disputes have always been one of my greatest passions, as well as frustrations. So many complexities taken into consideration to decide who has rights to what brand name or tagline. It can be exhilarating if you're into that sort of thing. Other times it can be downright frustrating. Then other times it can be hysterical.

ThinkGeek, an online marketer of technology accessories, comical shirts, and other hysterical parody products, posted an April Fools joke product for "Canned Unicorn Meat." Anyone with an ounce of common sense would know this is a joke, and curious parties who attempted to purchase the product got a message that they had just fallen for an April Fools gag. Everyone got a good laugh out of it, everyone except for the National Pork Board.

In the advertisement for mythical meat product, ThinkGeek used the phrase "The new white meat" and several sites referred to the product as "the other white meat." The National Pork Board had their lawyers send a cease & desist letter, pointing out that THE OTHER WHITE MEAT is a registered trademark of the National Pork Board and ThinkGeek's use of the term is an infringement and dilution of  their trademark rights.

Trademarks are a way to distinguish that the product in question comes from a unique source. That way, we know whether we're buying Hormel's authentic SPAM product, and not an off-label spiced ham meat byproduct. Trademarks are important to help consumers know they are buying the authentic product that they prefer. If another company attempted to call their spiced ham canned meat SPAM, Hormel could interject and bring legal action against the offending company.

I don't believe any consumers saw the canned unicorn meat and truly believed it was a viable replacement for pork. This was not a true threat to the National Pork Board, nor was it something damaging to the public's love of pig-derived meats. The real threat to the National Pork Board are the counselors to the board who thought it would be a good idea to pay thousands on the drafting of a legal document asking ThinkGeek to stop using the similar taglines to sell their competing meat (which never existed in the first place). Instead, they spent a lot of time and money to provide comic fodder for the masses so we could mock the National Pork Board and Faege & Benson, the attorneys who sent the C&D letter.

Before you react to what you believe is a trademark violation, take a moment to consider whether there is a real threat to your business. It's probably wise to consult with someone other than your trigger-happy lawyers before you dump dollars into starting a fight that doesn't really exist. I'd gladly save you the several thousands of dollars and embarrassment.