Fruit Loops’ toucan trademark war boosts nonprofit

Toucan Sam went after a California-based, nonprofit archaeological project in an intellectual property lawsuit earlier this year. Kellogg, the maker of Fruit Loops cereal, believed its advertising symbol, a famous, big-beaked toucan, and a logo used by the Maya Archaeology Initiative were too similar.

Kellogg’s trademark infringement suit claimed that consumers would be confused and the cereal maker’s equity would be diluted if the toucan mascots were allowed to compete.

Kellogg also argued that the imagery behind the MAI toucan was also troublesome. In the MAI mark, a toucan stands in front of a Mayan temple, which the Fruit Loops manufacturer said duplicated the environment Toucan Sam often appears in.

MAI and its parent sponsor, the World Free Press Institute in California, did not take the Kellogg accusations lightly. The nonprofit discovered the environment infringement that Kellogg alleged was connected to an online video game that Toucan Sam appeared in. WFPI fought back, saying the enemy is a stereotyped wicked witch doctor and the only person of color in the game.

The nonprofits went on a public relations counterattack, charging Kellogg with racial stereotyping. After Kellogg was deluged by negative press, the cereal company removed the game from the Internet and began settlement talks with MAI.

Kellogg officials announced the company no longer feels threatened by the MAI toucan trademark. Settlement discussions are going so well for the nonprofit that Kellogg has donated $100,000 to the project’s Maya cultural heritage campaign. The MAI website will be featured on Fruit Loops cereal boxes. MAI also will get to keep its toucan.

Source: Intellectual Property Brief, “Kellogg Reaches Settlement in ‘Toucan’ Trademark Dispute – Few Feathers Ruffled,” Richard Patterson, Nov. 17, 2011