Legal Fight Over Design Of Disposable Coffee Cups

from the is-no-competition-allowed? dept

Whatever happened to actually competing in the market place? Copycense points us to a recent legal battle between Dixie and Huhtamaki over the design of their disposable coffee cups. Seriously. Dixie claimed that Huhtamaki violated its trade dress because its cups, like Dixie’s, included a white band at the bottom of the cup. After two years in court, the judge, thankfully, didn’t see what the big deal was over both cups having a white strip at the bottom and ruled against Dixie. In part, the judge noted, Dixie never proved that the white strip was non-functional, which is important, since trade dress is supposed to be for non-functional design elements:

Dixie even provided alternative designs for Huhtamaki to adopt to differentiate its cup from Dixie’s, according to the judge’s order.

“Because Huhtamaki would either incur additional costs or sacrifice design quality if it were forced to adopt one of Dixie’s alternative designs, the court finds that the product feature in question is functional under the traditional test.”

Still, just the fact that lawsuits like this even exist in the first place shows how far gone these things have gone. It’s as if every company feels entitled to having no competition whatsoever, and will sue anyone who offers anything remotely similar. What a sad state of affairs.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: dixie, huhtamaki

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Comments on “Legal Fight Over Design Of Disposable Coffee Cups”

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11 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Great

Oh, and when the constitution says to promote the progress of useful arts, it doesn’t mention useful to whom. Litigation is almost always useful to lawyers, it makes them money, so in a sense this does promote the progress of useful arts. The constitution doesn’t say useful to society at large.

Mr Fnortner (profile) says:

Capitalism

Don’t confuse this with capitalism. This is mercantilism or government protectionism. The only possible way for this problem to exist is for the practice to be protected by government sanction. The Constitution is one source of this protection–and sadly this is one place where Madison and the founders got it wrong. Intellectual property is not property and should never have been protected. Business people sit on their butts and fend off competition with lawsuits rather than fight it out in the marketplace only because the government collaborates with them in this endeavor by offering them cover for this practice. This is a shameful use of coercive powers.

Dark Space (user link) says:

Shortsighted?

Both the article and the comments seem a little short-sighted. I don’t know the paper cup industry, but Dixie Cup is a multi-billion dollar machine with over 60 manufacturing facilities and employing thousands of people. Something that size is worth fighting for – and it shouldn’t be sneezed at. It brings to mind the Dart family responsible for the competing products such as Dart Cups, the primary two brothers of said family being on the Forbes richest people list and who have fled the tax regime of the US.

The fact they’re suing over something that seems irrelevant to us non-paper cup experts, makes me wonder if this was actually part of something much larger and Dixie Cup was suing on a particular item they felt most defensible. That would not be an uncommon strategy – when someone rips you off, you start defending it wherever you are most likely to succeed, sometimes, regardless of how correlated it is with the big picture strategy. One look at the Huhtamaki.com website, and I’d imagine they probably have to employ a pretty sizable legal team to defend their products – a lot of them look very familiar to the established American brands. Huhtamaki has been around for a while, mostly in Europe, but has only been in the packaging/cup business about half as long as Dixie Cup and Dart.

Spanky, seems especially short-sighted. If you spent considerable engineering dollars drawing up plans for a widget, created and started distributing the widget, only to have some other firm copy you and underprice you – how would you feel about that? I’m all for competition and capitalism, but I don’t want someone else paying for my work (of course, I’m an entrepreneur, and you are probably a worker bee – so we likely have different views on such things).

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