The Decades-Long Trademark Dispute Over 'Pretzel Crisps' Comes To Its Obvious End

from the getting-twisted dept

It's quite incredible how often the unfortunate growth of ownership culture in America produces silly trademark disputes over terms that obviously shouldn't be valid trademarks. While examples of this are legion, let's get right into what has become a decade-plus long dispute over "pretzel crisps". Snyder's, acquired by Princeton Vanguard, has long made a "pretzel crisp" product. In 2004, the USPTO registered the company's "pretzel crisp" mark, but as a supplemental to an earlier registration, deeming it "descriptive". If you want to argue that the term "pretzel crisp" is not descriptive, well, don't because you're wrong. Even Princeton Vanguard didn't argue differently until 2009, when it attempted to argue that the term had acquired distinctiveness in the public, associated with the company's brand and product. The USPTO remained unconvinced when Frito-Lay opposed the registration as it had its own similar product, with that opposition going so far as to actually seek to have any registration for the term canceled as generic.

From there, the companies found themselves in lawsuit-land.

(Note to the reader: this is normally where I would include a useful pull-quote from the bakeryandsnacks.com link above about how two federal appeals courts ruled against Snyder's, affirming the mark as generic, but unfortunately that website seems to think that disallowing any copy/paste of its text is somehow the same as enforcing copyright. When attempting to do so, you get a copyright warning. Now, I could simply type out the quote and use the text anyway, given that such use would fall squarely in fair use territory, but instead I'll use this space to give a big "fuck you!" to bakeryandsnacks.com. You're welcome for some traffic, you restrictive ass-bags!)

Anyhoo, while two losses in federal court really should have been the end of this, yet another civil action was brought by Princeton Vanguard in the US District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. Both parties asked for summary judgement as to whether the term "pretzel crisp" can be registered as a trademark or if it's generic. The court declined to grant summary judgement based on a procedural technicality. But the court did still rule on the overall question of the generic nature of the term.

Especially significant here, the law forbids trademarking generic terms, even when a putative mark holder engages in successful efforts to establish consumer recognition of an otherwise generic term. Id. at 193-94. “[N]o matter how much money and effort the user of a generic term has poured into promoting the sale of its merchandise and what success it has achieved in securing public identification, it cannot deprive competing manufacturers of the product of the right to call an article by its name.”...In sum, courts have long sought to foreclose companies from monopolizing common terms, holding that no single competitor has the right to “corner the market” on ordinary words and phrases.

From there, the court gets into a long discussion on the standards of determining if a term is generic, with specific standards around the combining of two descriptive or generic terms and how that effects the compound term's generic or not nature. It's all very interesting if you're into that sort of thing, as am I, but the court's conclusion is the larger point.

Although the Court concludes that the combination of the generic elements “pretzel” and “crisps” does not create any additional meaning for consumers from which they can distinguish Plaintiffs’ product and thus indicates that PRETZEL CRISPS is generic, the Court does not rest its finding of genericness on that finding. Rather, after considering de novo all the evidence offered by the Parties which bears on consumers’ perception of the mark, the Court finds that, on balance, a preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that the mark, considered only in its entirety, is generic.

Of course it is. The term "pretzel crisp" tells you absolutely nothing about who produced that product. The rest of the branding on the packaging has to do that instead. Why? Well, because the term "pretzel crisp" merely tells you what product is in the bag or box you're buying. It's descriptive, a generic term for a type of foodstuff.

Meanwhile, this order is 53 pages long, filled with the history of this dispute, with survey evidence brought by both parties, legal standards and the like, all just to outline why, for the fourth time now, someone has had to tell Snyder's that "pretzel crisp" is a generic term.

If that isn't a perfect example of how insane ownership culture is, I can't imagine what would be.

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Filed Under: crisp, pretzel crisp, pretzels, trademark
Companies: frito lay, princeton vanguard, snyders


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  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 11 Jun 2021 @ 2:48am

    Cut-n-Paste

    but unfortunately that website seems to think that disallowing any copy/paste of its text is somehow the same as enforcing copyright. When attempting to do so, you get a copyright warning.

    Get the add-on "Absolute Enable Right Click & Copy" - it gets rid of that kind of nonsense. I tried the site you mention (may it forever not get traffic), and it works like a charm.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Flakbait (profile), 11 Jun 2021 @ 3:21am

    Imagination

    "If that isn't a perfect example of how insane ownership culture is, I can't imagine what would be."

    Try this:

    SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

    SNYDER’S LANCE, INC. AND PRINCETON-VANGUARD, LLC
    v.
    FRITO-LAY NORTH AMERICA, INC.

    ON MOTION FOR REVIEW OF THE DESCRIPTIVENESS OF PRETZEL CRISPS

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2021 @ 4:33am

    It's simple no company should be able to trademark simple generic common words like pizza chocolate etc apple has the trademark on apple computers , eg electronic products like phones smartwatchs tablets
    It does not stop people from selling apples or other fruit
    It would restrict competition if someone could trademark chocolate biscuit or hot pizza

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 11 Jun 2021 @ 5:20am

    Pull-quote

    "˙ǝɯɐu uoɯɯoɔ ǝɥʇ ǝsᴉlodouoɯ ʇouuɐɔ ɹǝɔnpoɹd ǝɥʇ 'sʇɔnpoɹd pǝɯɐu ʎlɹɐlᴉɯᴉs ɟo plǝᴉɟ ǝɥʇ ɹɐǝlɔ oʇ sʇɹoɟɟǝ uoᴉʇɐɹʇsᴉƃǝɹ ʞɹɐɯǝpɐɹʇ sʇᴉ oʇ sʞuɐɥʇ ʎlᴉɹɐɯᴉɹd sʞɔɐus s,ɹǝpʎuS oʇ ɹǝɟǝɹ oʇ sɹǝɯnsuoɔ ʎq pǝɯnssɐ ʎlǝpᴉʍ sᴉ ,,sdsᴉɹɔ lǝzʇǝɹd,, ɥƃnoɥʇlɐ 'llǝq ǝƃpnſ oʇ ƃuᴉpɹoɔɔ∀ ˙(ʎuɐdɯoƆ dnoS llǝqdɯɐƆ ʎq pǝuʍo ʍou) s,ɹǝpʎuS ʎq pɹɐʍɹoɟ ʇnd ʇuǝɯnƃɹɐ ǝɥʇ pǝssᴉɯsᴉp slɐǝdd∀ ɟo ʇɹnoƆ ʇᴉnɔɹᴉƆ S∩ ɥʇㄣ ǝɥʇ ʎq ƃuᴉlnɹ ʇuǝɔǝɹ ʇsoɯ ǝɥʇ 'uᴉɐƃ∀ ˙ɔᴉɹǝuǝƃ sᴉ ʞɹɐɯ ǝɥʇ ʇɐɥʇ pǝlnɹ ʎlʇuǝnbǝsqns ǝʌɐɥ 'ㄥƖ0ᄅ uᴉ ʇᴉnɔɹᴉƆ ɥʇ6 ǝɥʇ puɐ ㄣƖ0ᄅ uᴉ ʇᴉnɔɹᴉƆ ɥʇㄥ ǝɥʇ 'sʇɹnoɔ slɐǝddɐ lɐɹǝpǝɟ oʍ┴"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2021 @ 6:22am

      Re: Pull-quote

      The least you could have done is provide aspirin with that post. I made the mistake of reading the last (first) two sentences...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2021 @ 12:04pm

    They should try this asshattery anywhere else in the English-speaking world, where "crisp" is insanely generic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2021 @ 7:57am

    Princeton Vanguard - We need that trademark because our human experimentation via synthetic chemicals in our food products didn't have the results we wanted. Plus we shat our pants when we saw the 2.1 billion J&J lawsuit result for causing cancer.......

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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