The Americans are known for suing people left, right and centre. They have the laws and would find any loophole to get back at anyone they deem have done them dirty. Trademark law is intended to prevent consumer confusion and protect brand identity.
However, in this "dog eat dog" (no pun intended) world, could they put in a cent of thought and maybe collaborate rather than going through expensive court trials when there are copyright claims between a famous company and a dog (actual dog as in the animal) related product company? Can it even be done? Will the plaintiff make a profit off it or not?
American University Intellectual Property brief asks these questions after studying some previous claims filed under trademark infringement.
The latest in a long line of many dog-related trademark claims came from a candy company that is suing a dog treat company on trademark infringement. On 14 April this year, the iconic candy brand Tootsie Roll Industries sued the dog treats brand Spunky Pup in the Illinois Federal Court. According to the case, Spunk Pup's newest dog treat, "Tootsie Pups," infringes on Tootsie's iconic label in the treat's name, packaging, and shape.
Previously, the fashion and luxury brand Louis Vuitton sued dog toy maker Haute Diggity Dog for patent dilution. The things in question were a series of soft dog toys named "Chewy Vuitton" that resembled Louis Vuitton goods. The court ruled in favour of Haute Diggity Puppy saying that the dog toys were blatant parodies that were unlikely to confuse consumers.
In another lawsuit, where the whisky brand Jack Daniel's sued VIP Products over a dog toy resembling a bottle of Jack Daniel's, named "Bad Spaniels." The plaintiff raised strong dilution claims, as the dog toy contained language painting Jack Daniel's in a less favourable light. The dog toy displayed the language, "The Old No. 2 on your Tennessee Carpet." Jack Daniel's case was initially brought in the Ninth Circuit, which, like the Louis Vuitton case, found in favour of VIP Products for similar reasons the creativity of conveying a commercial parody. Like Chewy Vuitton, the Bad Spaniels chew toy is not likely to cause customer confusion as it is clearly comedic.
Now, for anyone looking to make a fashion statement, the regular Louis Vuitton bag cost several hundred bucks, while the dog toy was cheap and targeted at pet owners. The Tootsie Pup treat, unlike Tootsie Roll, is specifically aimed at pet owners.
The question here is, why are marketers spending money on lawsuits while there seems to be a strong demand for dog-related partnerships? These cases clearly show so.
Brand security is crucial to a company's success, but trademark law may limit partnership to some extent. Under the defence of satire, dog brand firms will continue to win, according to the case law.
So maybe it's time for brands who aren't connected to dogs should work together to reach new markets, because if somebody is going to profit from a dog treat named and wrapped like a tootsie pop, it should probably be Tootsie Roll Industries LLC.