Intellectual Property Litigation: Cookies the Focus of Lawsuit Between Food Giants

Photo - cookie IP casesCookies not only taste good but they can be the subject of intellectual property (IP) lawsuits. While many IP lawsuits in the news concern high tech patents like those between Samsung and Apple over smart phones, IP disputes can arise over virtually over any product that has a patent, trademark or copyright.

A cookie sold by Trader Joe’s is the basis of a trademark infringement case filed in December in federal court in Connecticut by Pepperidge Farm, Inc., a bakery unit of the Campbell Soup Company, according to Reuters. Trader Joes’ estimated total revenues in fiscal year 2013 was $10.5 billion. It’s a privately held grocery store chain based in Monrovia, California, which opened its 400th store in 2013.

Pepperidge Farm claims that Trader Joe’s has infringed its trademark rights by copying the look of its Milano cookies and its packaging. It claims the grocery store chain is damaging its goodwill and confusing shoppers through the sale of its Crispy Cookies.

Milano cookies are oval shaped shortbread cookies that sandwich chocolate or other flavored filling. A trademark for the cookie was registered in 2010. Pepperidge Farm admits the Trader Joe’s cookie at issue is more rectangular but its rounded edges mimic an oval shape.

Cookies are no stranger to IP litigation. The tasty treats have kept many a lawyer busy by more than just eating them.

  • Eat’n Park, a Pennsylvania bakery and restaurant chain, sued Plano, Texas, based Cookies by Design because they were selling smiley faced sugar cookies that were “confusingly similar” to its own, trademarked design, according to the Dallas Morning News. The 2010 lawsuit sought a stop to the sale of the offending cookies as well as payment of damages. An Eat’n Park spokesman stated the legal action resulted from a break down in negotiations between the parties who were seeking agreement. The company claimed it was selling 12 million smiley faced cookies a year.
  • The only thing better than a cookie is a weight loss plan based on eating them. According to a press release Sanford Siegal, D.O., M.D., won a preliminary injunction in 2007 from a federal court judge in Miami declaring that his company has national ownership of the “Cookie Diet” trademark preventing U.S. Medical Care Holdings, LLC, from using that trademark. Siegal created the Cookie Diet and supposedly hunger controlling foods (including cookies) in 1975. The defendant Sasson Moulavi, M.D., and his company had a licensing agreement with Siegal from 2002 to 2006 to open, operate and sub-franchise diet centers bearing Siegal’s name and using his weight loss methods and foods. After the agreement ended Siegal claims Moulavi continued to use his trademarks without permission.

No matter what product you sell you may want to consider IP litigation against an infringing party or you may be the defendant in such a lawsuit. Either way, whether your product has a patent or a related trademark or copyright, call our office so we can discuss competing products, applicable legal protections and the best ways to protect your legal rights.