Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Rights and Reason: Hormel Fights to Defend Spam Name

The AP reports that Hormel Foods is suing a Seattle-based software firm for infringing upon its "Spam" trademark.

SpamArrest, which specializes in blocking junk e-mail or "spam," filed papers to trademark its corporate name early this year. Hormel then sent the company a warning to drop the word "Spam." SpamArrest refused.

"If you ask most people on the street, they're going to say junk e-mail as opposed to the luncheon meat as their first description of what spam is. I think they're overstepping their bounds," said Brian Cartmell, SpamArrest's chief executive.

Cartmell says his company's use of the word has nothing to do with Hormel's product, first produced in 1937. Hormel officials disagree, arguing that the company has carefully protected and invested in the brand name, and that the public could confuse the meat product with the technology company. It filed its challenges in late June.

Hormel acknowledges that its brand name has taken on new meaning, and it outlines on its Web site what it considers acceptable uses of the word.
I think Hormel is well within its rights. To be honest, I'm at a loss as to why "Spam" became synonymous with unsolicited e-mail in the first place. The news editors who first covered Internet jargon should have been sensitive to the fact that "Spam" is a commercial trademark--any good journalism style manual tells you as much for obvious reasons. But, by an attempt to be cute, Hormel’s mark has more or less been dragged through the mud and will likely never come clean.

As far as SpamArrest goes, they can not escape the simple fact that the name "Spam" is property that Hormel has a right to protect. SpamArrest does not have a right to the commercial use of the word “Spam” despite the word’s wide-spread non-commercial use.

It will be interesting to see how the courts rule in light of the recent Victor's Secret case, where it was held that "Victor's Secret" was sufficiently different from "Victoria's Secret" to squelch a trademark infringement suit. Ideas are ethereal things, and yet protecting their value is crucial. This is a case we will be monitoring closely.

No comments: