from the you-scream dept
Welcome to this year’s dumbest controversy thus far. A couple of weeks ago, famed ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would no longer be selling its products in “occupied Palestinian territory.” Indicating that doing so would not align with the company’s values, the idea here was that settlements that infringed on territory that was deemed to belong to the Palestinians by international law would be off the company’s radar. Not all of Israel, mind you. Just the occupied territories. And that is when everyone lost their god damned minds. Ron DeSantis is seeking to have Florida put B&J and its parent company, Unilever, on a list of companies that should be scrutinized for “boycotting Israel”. Jewish leaders indicated that the kosher rating of the ice cream could be altered for the same reason. Except that isn’t what B&J are doing. It isn’t boycotting Israel at all. It’s simply refusing to sell its product in small sections of land that Israel currently occupies.
And where this gets into Techdirt territory is that one law firm in Israel is going to so far as to try to screw with Ben & Jerry’s trademark rights, arguing now that it can use the B&J trademarks in those territories because the company isn’t selling products there any longer.
Ben & Jerry’s is on its way to losing ownership of its brand in the settlements. The law association Shurat HaDin has submitted a request to the Registrar of Companies to register a company called “Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream of Judea and Samaria.” This would be in keeping with US law under which a company loses the right to trademark protection in areas in which it has stopped selling its product.
The law firm informed food giant Unilever that since it had given up selling Ben & Jerry’s ice creams in the “West Bank,” under US law, it had lost the right to protect the Ben & Jerry’s trademark in those areas. Shurat HaDin has already submitted an application to the Israeli Registrar of Companies to register the new brand “Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream of Judea and Samaria,” which will receive legal protection to sell the exact same ice cream, with the same trade name, and actually compete with the original company.
It should be obvious that this is absolutely not what trademark law is for. What is happening here is some combination of extortion and punishment simply because a private company has taken a very small stance on an international issue. This is typical of the maximal response that tends to be trotted out when Israel encounters these types of scenarios. I’ve heard this described by foreign policy experts as a form of “diplomatic deterrence”, where a minor issue generates a response that’s dialed to eleven simply to deter any like-minded companies or actors from taking the same actions.
But that, again, is not what trademark law is designed to do. It’s designed to keep the public from being confused as to what they’re buying. And it’s hard to imagine a more perfect scenario for creating public confusion than a fraction of territory being sold B&J branded ice cream that isn’t legit while the rest of the country gets the legit stuff. And the idea that US law is being used to do all of this makes this all the more infuriating.
Shurat HaDin examined and found that under US law, in order to preserve the protection of a trademarked brand against use by other parties, there must be full intention to conduct business in a particular area. That is, in cases where a commercial brand is intended only to prevent another party from using the same label, without having any intention of operating in the same area, its request will not be approved. Therefore, once that person announces that he does not intend to operate in the same area, it means that he has no intention of using his trademark and his right to trademark will no longer stand.
It’s not that simple, obviously. And hopefully the Trademark Office and any courts that might get involved will see this for the skullduggery that it absolutely is. Whatever stances you might want to take on political issues related to this, this simply isn’t what trademark laws are for.