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Spam Lawsuit's Last Laugh is at Hormel's Expense 172

Posted by Zonk
from the junk-email-junk-email-eggs-and-junk-email dept.
Brian Cartmell writes "An article at the Minneapolis — StarTribune site covers a significant setback for the Hormel food company, in a case that's being closely watched by security companies across the country. Seattle-based Spam Arrest has gone up against the creator of the food substance in court, fighting for the right to use the word spam in its company name. The US Trademark Trial and Appeal board has sided with the spam fighters, agreeing that consumers of the Spam product would never confuse the food with junk email. 'Derek Newman, Spam Arrest's attorney, said the decision opens the door for many other anti-spam software companies ... "Spam Arrest fought this battle for the whole software industry," Newman said.'"
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Spam Lawsuit's Last Laugh is at Hormel's Expense

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  • Oblig. (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:51PM (#21534943)

    This story is not complete without a gratuitous link to the Monty Python Spam sketch [youtube.com]!

  • by DarrenR114 (6724) on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:14PM (#21535357)
    You missed the 'a' at the end.

    The history of Pepsi was that it was introduced as a curative for dyspepsia, so the makers of Pepsi probably wouldn't mind a little publicity on their product's history.

    On a related note - Dr. Pepper was created for the same purpose, using prune juice in their recipe.
  • by DCTooTall (870500) on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:19PM (#21535421)
    Actually something that I kinda find interesting is some stuff within the second part of the Article. Appearently not only is hormel the sponsor of Monty Python's Spamalot, but they even show Python videos within their Spam museum.

    It also indicated that they accept and have no problem with the meaning that the word 'spam' has taken in recent years, and with it's use as the slang term (in lowercase). Their issue comes from the use of the word "Spam" (capitilized) in trademarks since it was a word and trademark they created back in 1937.

    IMHO... it's basically a case where they see the honor/flattery in having their product's name become so commonplace in today's society....in large part due us old-school geeks love of Monty Python and applying the term to unwanted emails WAAAAYYYYYY back in the early days.... But they also recognize that we all know that spam is unwanted email and SPAM is a lunch meat product. They also get the free advertising from people who may wonder how unwanted email got it's name, and creates a bit of brand recognition in that people are more likely to know about their product today because of the name. But, if other companies start using the name Spam in their company names or trademarks, it very likely could weaken their position.

    In some ways... I kinda see it as a case of 'protect it or lose it'. Just like with certain other industries or businesses, sometimes a company needs to make a (sometimes) unpopular move to attempt to prevent unlicensed use of their trademark or copyrighted images (think cartoon characters...etc), otherwise they risk losing the ability to protect their position in the future. For example, Say a hospital uses a popular cartoon character in some buttons or a Tshirt, but didn't get permission. Said company may go thru the process of a cease and desist based off the protecting their position reasoning. Because they might believe however that there is no commercial gain for the user, and possibly even want to be charitable to the cause, they may then give the hospital a license/permission to use the exact same property free of charge (and also for the advertising potential). If however they did nothing to prevent the usage or try to protect their property in the first place.......sometime down the road somebody could attempt to use that exact same image in such a way that would harm their position (commercial gain... people could associate them with an undesirable position/company/whatever..etc). When they then attempt to put a stop to THIS use of their image, The court could easily find based off the previous uncontested usages that the original owner no longer has the right or power to claim exclusive ownership and control of the image. The logic would be that their lack of control in other situations would indicate that their forfeiting their right to control it has allowed said image to become part of the public domain or cultural awareness.

    While that may sound kinda messed up, that's the legal system we live in. It also may not be as big a deal now for someone like hormel and SPAM... but think about some of the old cartoon characters and discontinued product logos from the years past. There are many which are now considered public domain or which people don't think twice about using even though technically they are still under protection, simply because the company which owns the image/logo hasn't bothered to protect it. Then we have images and characters which are older or from the same period which are still considered protected because the owner has gone thru the trouble of protecting it.




    Man.... I really go off on long-winded tangents.... don't I?
  • by aberkvam (109205) <[aberkvam] [at] [berque.com]> on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:29PM (#21535585) Homepage

    Does anybody have a definitive origin? Like the bug in Grace Hoppers log book?

    Grace Hopper was not the origin of the term "bug" to refer to a defect in a mechanical device. Both "bug" and "debug" were in use before then. Thomas Edison, for example, referred to bugs in his inventions. Wikipedia's article on software bugs [wikipedia.org] is a good place to start learning more.
  • Re:the other Coke (Score:2, Informative)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:30PM (#21535605) Journal

    unlike SPAM (tm) and its spam counterpart which have no obvious connection except cultural non sequiturism.
    SPAM (tm) == Spiced Ham.

    Sorry to burst your bubble.
  • Re:A delicacy (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:53PM (#21536029)
    I'll back up your comment.

    I've been to Hawaii once while my friend was in the airforce. I was amazed that the main meat product in Hawaii among the people that live there was spam. The reason told to me was because everything in Hawaii has to imported (except pineapples of course), which makes everything there very expensive, fresh meat especially. Spam is used as a substitute for meat in many of their dishes. One of the favorite snacks among the Hawaiian people is a matsubi: spam on top of a rice patty wrapped with seaweed (think of spam sushi). You can find this thing everywhere, even on the golf course!
  • Re:At whose expense? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jay L (74152) <jay+slashNO@SPAMjay.fm> on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:54PM (#21536033) Homepage
    and hormel wanted to cash in on the name despite (or because of) the declining popularity of the meat(ish) product... Instead, meh... They try to push the legal envelope and get a paper cut. Potted meatheads.

    Wow, you really just got that information from a doctor with a glove, didn't you?

    Hormel actually 'got it' pretty early on, and had a good sense of humor about it, too. They're in a bind, of course, because they don't want to lose the trademark for the meat, but they don't want to lose the goodwill of the community by acting all RIAA-like. (Ironically, their meat itself is NOT in a bind. (Little sausage-casing humor there.))

    So at first, they said "Look, just use lower case letters for the e-mail, and we'll use capital letters for our product." But that didn't really work, because nobody could remember which was which, and everyone always likes to capitalize Internet terms that aren't acronyms.

    So then they said "OK, just don't trademark it yourself."

    Now they're losing that case. (Ironically, their meat itself is NOT in a case. (Little sausage-binding humor there.))

  • Re:At whose expense? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Penguinisto (415985) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:04PM (#21536193) Journal

    And spam is spam precisely because of the negative connotations.

    Well... not exactly. Spam email got its tag from Monty Python's Spam skit*, not from someone's recollection of how SPAM tastes (At least not directly).

    *(if you are a true geek, you would know exactly why that would be an apt application).

    FWIW, SPAM (the potted meat) is still considered a tasty thing along the left-hand side of the Pacific Rim.

    /P

  • Tagged "patents"? (Score:3, Informative)

    by LocalH (28506) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:05PM (#21536201) Homepage
    What braindead Slashdotter tagged this story with "patents"? It's a trademark issue, not a patent one.
  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:07PM (#21536229)
    Apple Records (a 'music' company) sued Apple Computer (a 'computer' company) over the name thing. Apple Records initially didn't do much about Steve Jobs use of their name back when Apple records was the big dog and Apple Computer was a nobody because no one would ever confuse computers with music. Right. Apple Records has pretty much been eclipsed by Apple Computer now and Jobs won the latest trademark dispute thanks to so many years of using the Apple name.

    Apple did not win the latest trademark dispute becasue of size or name recognition; they had a clause in their license agreement taht was interpreted to allow them to move into music related computer products. They later reached an agreement with Apple Records over the ownership of the Apple trademark, which makes sense since Apple Computer is a much bigger dog and can better protect the Apple name. In any case; it was done via agreemnets between teh two companies, not a court awarding Apple rights to the trademark.
  • by idontgno (624372) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:19PM (#21536461) Journal
    If Hormel loses, we will no longer know if we are getting the genuine SPAM, or an imitator, when we go the supermarket.

    That's hype. In the arena of food products, the SPAM mark will still be valid and enforceable.

    To quote The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School:

    So, for example, the use of an identical mark on the same product would clearly constitute infringement. If I manufacture and sell computers using the mark "Apple," my use of that mark will likely cause confusion among consumers, since they may be misled into thinking that the computers are made by Apple Computer, Inc. Using a very similar mark on the same product may also give rise to a claim of infringement, if the marks are close enough in sound, appearance, or meaning so as to cause confusion. So, for example, "Applet" computers may be off-limits; perhaps also "Apricot." On the other end of the spectrum, using the same term on a completely unrelated product will not likely give rise to an infringement claim. Thus, Apple Computer and Apple Records can peacefully co-exist, since consumers are not likely to think that the computers are being made by the record company, or vice versa.
    -- http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/metaschool/fisher/domain/tm.htm#7 [harvard.edu], emphasis mine

    The first boldfaced bit covers your end-of-the-world hyperbole case. The second boldfaced bit is the actual case: The same trade name applied to distinct and unrelated products will probably not be infringement, which is borne out in the specific lawsut TFA was about.

    ObDisclaimer: IANAL, but I bet the clever chaps at Harvard Law School are.

  • Re:A delicacy (Score:3, Informative)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:22PM (#21536507) Journal
    The military was camped out on those islands a lot and one thing they brought was SPAM. SPAM was a common food in the military and the locals had fairly easy access to SPAM and eventually took a liking to it.
  • Re:A delicacy (Score:3, Informative)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:24PM (#21536539) Journal

    Some claim that the Pacific Islander's spam mania comes from their cannabilistic heritage and Spam's taste resemblance to the other, other white meat.
    What I've read is that Spam is currently popular where two things intersect:

    1. A history of pork consumption among the resident people (which is true for the Pacific isles) and
    2. American military presence from the 1930s(?) through the 1970s(?).

    I can't remember the date ranges, but this is true for Hawaii, the Philippines, etc. -- it's tied to the US Military's procurement contracts with Hormel.

    I'd also like to note that the popularity of pork has been linked to cannibalism as well... but I'm not sure how well that theory holds up.
  • by cumin (1141433) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:50PM (#21536933)

    That would make sense, but it is wrong. It all started back in the days when we chiseled our bits into stone and sent them by mule train from village to village...

    It was the MP skit, not the cultural feelings about SPAM that caused it. Later references were made back to the skit comparison, eventually it was one of those things that people were supposed to just *know* if they were cool.

    See: http://www.templetons.com/brad/spamterm.html [templetons.com]

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