Another day, another story of a questionable trademark nastygram from a big corporation against a small business. The latest involves baked goods giant Pillsbury (a part of food conglomerate General Mills), who apparently took offense to a small Salt Lake City bakery called "My Dough Girl" and sent a cease & desist
. Honestly, it took me a while to make the connection here. Yes, Pillsbury has the "Pillsbury Dough Boy," but that always
seems to include the Pillsbury name. The article claims that the owner of the bakery checked on any "copyright infringement," which might explain the problem... this is a trademark issue, not a copyright one (though, I'm guessing this is just confusion on the part of the bakery owner, the reporter, or both).
Of course, these sorts of stories show up all the time. There were a couple of interesting elements in this one. While no lawsuit was actually filed, the fear
that a legal nastygram from a giant firm can engender in a small business becomes clear. The owner of the store was so afraid of a lawsuit, she wouldn't even talk to reporters. It's not clear why talking to a reporter would make the situation any worse, but it does show how fearful a single letter has made this woman. In fact, a different report claims that General Mills' lawyers told her not to talk to the press
. That's pretty ridiculous. Whether or not it's smart to talk to the press, she shouldn't be taking orders from General Mills' counsel. Either way, it looks like the bakery immediately capitulated and agreed to change its name, at a cost of $50,000. Ouch.
Even more interesting, though, is the reason this story is getting attention isn't because the bakery is fighting it, but because a bunch of fans
of the bakery have used the internet to spread the word
about how they really don't appreciate Pillsbury bullying their local bakery, which no one confused with the food giant in the first place. The article above also says that General Mills asked the owner to "kill the Facebook page," even though she didn't create it and has no control over it. In fact, she seems afraid that the Facebook page is making things worse. Still, it's quite a testament to modern technology that this is even possible. Can you imagine patrons of a small business standing up to a giant corporation without the small business' support in the past?
However, all it's really doing is calling a lot more attention to incredible bullying by a company like General Mills against a small company that has a legitimate claim to the name. One of these days, perhaps lawyers will realize that legal bullying leads to backlash, but I guess we still haven't reach that point yet.