A Los Angeles company does not have to steal a recipe, ingredient for ingredient, to be in legal trouble for selling a product similar to one manufactured by another business. Intellectual property law protections reach far beyond duplicating someone else’s product or service. The name of a product and the way it is marketed can violate laws.
A trademark is a product or service identifier and an outward sign that gives a first or lasting impression of the quality of a brand and company. Dilution is a legal term used to describe the “tarnishing” of a business’s image in the minds of consumers. The Hershey Company recently filed trademark infringement lawsuits against two companies, one in each of the states where recreational marijuana use is legal.
Hershey is a chocolate candy making institution, famous worldwide for popular, well-established products like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Mr. Goodbar. The lawsuits allege the cannabis shops sell marijuana products in stores and online, with names and marks that mimic Hershey brands. The chocolate maker is worried “Reefer’s Peanut Butter Cups” and “Mr. Dankbar” will be misconstrued by consumers, particularly children, as candy.
Beyond the consumer safety factor, Hershey does not want its long-standing reputation to be sullied by any association with marijuana. Hershey’s position is product designs by Conscious Care Cooperative outlets in Washington and another, separate marijuana company in Colorado are chipping away at the chocolate candy maker’s goodwill.
Intellectual property attorneys know some businesses, including non-competitors, can’t resist trying to “borrow” the reputation of a recognized company to become known or boost sales. Consumers can become confused when they see or think they see a familiar trademark on a product that is not the real thing. Most adults would know the difference between “Reefer’s” and “Reese’s” but kids might not, which is one reason Hershey is so up in arms about the dilution of its brand.
Source: KOMO, “Seattle pot co-op sued by Hershey's for trademark infringement” Kristen Drew, Jun. 04, 2014