Protecting Its Proprietary Pork – Hormel Back To Suing About Spam Name
from the history-repeats-itself dept
Back in the mid-to-late nineties, there was a period of time where Hormel Foods, the makers of SPAM – the luncheon meat (if you can call it that) – got upset at everyone using the term for unwanted email. They threatened a few lawsuits, but eventually backed down, and even came close to embracing the notion that the spam label for email was really giving them free publicity. Apparently, Hormel has changed its mind. They’ve now filed a complaint against anti-spam technology vendor Spam Arrest for filing a trademark application on the company’s name. Of course, since Hormel has openly said that people can use the spam name for unsolicited email, they will have a lot more trouble defending the trademark. Also, it seems pretty clear that the overall meaning of the word “spam” has changed. Most people think about the email before they think about the meat-like substance.
Comments on “Protecting Its Proprietary Pork – Hormel Back To Suing About Spam Name”
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I think there’s a bit of a difference between embracing the notion that people discussing UCE often use the vernacular “spam” inspired by Monty Python skit. But as the UCE problem gets worse, and as companies try to create their own “Spam …” trademarks, I also understand their frustration at losing a very distinctive trademark. The Python skit was popular even before UCE existed, because *everyone* knows what SPAM(tm) is. Five years from now, if not already, kids will see grocery items and wonder why anyone would want to eat something named after those icky boob and pill advertisements.
Not to the older generation
During WW2 when meat was rationed (even in the USA!), most of the meat was sent to the soldiers, so spam was a luxury commodity among civilians held in God-like reverence. It is still popular in pacific islands such as Hawaii, where natives grill it or put it in rice balls. It also goes well with Sour Poi, a fermented tube root porridge that tastes like a cross between varnish and snot. But don’t say that out loud in Hawaii, because the savages responded by dumping a bucketful of Sour Poi on our rental car in the parking lot.
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It’s too late. SPAM has already become a generic term. If they wanted to defend their trademark, they should have done so before SPAM became as generic as it is today.
One of the key elements of a trademark infringement case is “likelihood of confusion.” The only time you really get away with an “it’s got the same name!” argument is if you have a famous mark, such as Coke, Nike, or McDonald’s. Who’s going to confuse Spam (r) with spam? The context makes it almost immediately apparent in my mind what’s being discussed, so I don’t see a lot of luck for Hormel. Compare it to a discussion about Nike-branded anything, other than Greek food, and you’ll almost certainly think about Nike the sporting goods company. That’s the difference.