from the milking-it dept
Part of the fun of covering the sort of silly trademark disputes that we do here at Techdirt is seeing just how far companies, most often large companies, will go in trying to apply protectionist habits where they don't belong. This typically manifests itself in the key marketplace aspect of trademark law, where the brands in question are to be competing for customers who might become confused for an infringement to have occurred. Too often this aspect of the law appears to go ignored in claims of infringement, or else the concept of competitive marketplaces is stretched to the point of absurdity. As I said, this is often times amusing to us, because we're strange.
Take a recent suit brought against Land O Lakes, a company that makes fishing tackle, and Land O' Lakes, a company that makes dairy products.
James Hugunin manufactures and sells fishing tackles under the name Land O Lakes, after a region in northern Wisconsin popular among fishermen. However, a large agricultural cooperative in Minnesota named Land O'Lakes took issue with Hugunin's use of the name. The cooperative, which sells butter and other dairy products, has been using the name since the 1920s. It demanded Hugunin pay for a license to use the name, or give up his trademark.Here's a fun thought experiment: precisely how many times would the average person have to hit themselves in the head with a hammer before they found themselves standing before a Land O Lakes spinner bait lure trying to decide if it was actually a stick of butter? I have no idea how to answer that question with anything other than: many. But Land O' Lakes is large, and likely has many well-coifed lawyer-types on retainer, which is how you get the company's representatives actually filing a complaint for this sort of thing.
Fortunately, the court made it clear in its ruling that it wasn't buying it.
We're puzzled that the dairy company should have been worried by Hugunin's use of the same trademark," U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner said, writing for the Seventh Circuit's three-judge panel. While Land O'Lakes advertises its dairy products in fishing magazines, and even sponsors a [fishing] competition, there is no chance its products could be confused with Hugunin's fishing tackle, the panel found.Land O' Lakes had argued in its complaint that the market similarity and/or potential customer confusion here would stem from the fact that the dairy company sponsors fishing events and advertises in fishing magazines. It's a strange argument to make, as one might imagine it being a hard sell for Buick to try to control the brand names of golf equipment manufacturers just because they sponsor a PGA event. Advertising into a market doesn't make you a part of that market.
It would be strange indeed for a dairy company to manufacture a product so remote from milk, butter, and cream, and there is no sign that the dairy company intends to take the plunge. The company sponsors the angling tournament and advertises in fishing magazines because fishermen, like the rest of us, are consumers of dairy products.
As a result, the court tossed the suit, regardless of how much Land O' Lakes chose to cry over spilled milk.