from the i-drink-your-milkshake dept
Courts have long confronted this unauthorized-but-accurate use of another company's name. In a 1924 Supreme Court case the court considered a New York company that took a French company's cosmetic powder, blended it with a binding agent, and sold it as a compact including both the New York company's and French company's names on the packaging. The Supreme Court allowed the defendant to do this, provided that the defendant include a prominent disclaimer that the district court in the case initially imposed, informing the public that the two companies are not affiliated. Writing for the majority, Justice Holmes observed:In response, Boloco has decided to cave and is instead looking for alternatives to Nutella for their shake, even to the point of showing some of the other brands they're considering:[W]hat new rights does the trade-mark confer? It does not confer a right to prohibit the use of the word or words. It is not a copyright. . . . A trade-mark only gives the right to prohibit the use of it so far as to protect the owner's good will against the sale of another's product as his. . . . When the mark is used in a way that does not deceive the public we see no such sanctity in the word as to prevent its being used to tell the truth. It is not taboo.
Many courts have adopted this case's approach to this question: you can use the trademark so long as you are not misleading the public into there being an affiliation between you and the company, other than your use of the company's product in your product. For example, a 2004 case from the Southern District of New York allowed a company that makes tuna salad display on the lid of its container – in letters about as large as the company's own brand name – that the salad was "Made with Bumble Bee Tuna," over objections from the famous tuna company.
...when I was in Boloco today (field research!) I couldn't help but see the dozens of jars of Nutella in the back, and thinking about the dozen-or-so other locations around Boston with similar stacks of Nutella jars. Those will be replaced by a competitor's product, in a chain that seems to be growing with each passing month. Not to mention the thousands of Bostonians who have heard about this case and will naturally root for the local guy; you get the feeling that this whole experience is going to leave a bitter taste in [Nutella's] mouths.Perhaps, next time, they'll realize that bullying may be legal, but it's often not a particularly smart business strategy.