Campbell Soup-owned Pepperidge Farm launched trademark infringement action against the retailer in New Haven, Conn., federal court last week.
It alleges Trader Joe’s Crispy Cookies are trying to leverage Milano’s goodwill and reputation with a similar format and product packaging. Trader Joe's has declined to comment.
‘Not oval, different texture’
Irina Manta, professor of Law and director of the Center Intellectual Property Law at the Maurice A. Dean School of Law at Hofstra University, fails to see the similarities.
“Trader Joe’s cookies are different enough – not oval, different texture, including rougher edges, more chocolate spilling out on the ends – that confusion, under trademark infringement, or even blurring of the Milano mark , under trademark dilution, is unlikely,” she told ConfectioneryNews.
Tough to monopolize product design
In a similar law suit, Manta mentioned, back in the late 90s, Pepperidge Farm successfully stopped Nabisco from using as part of a snack mix (themed around the Catdog cartoon character) a fish-shaped cracker that resembled Pepperidge Farm’s goldfish cracker.
“That said, I’m sceptical that Pepperidge Farm will prevail in the current case against Trader Joe’s,” said Manta.
She added that Milano’s signature cookie shape may mean most consumers distinguish Milano cookies from other cookies that look even slightly different.
“Generally speaking, courts are more sceptical of giving broad protection to product design than to other kinds of trademarks, because there is a risk otherwise of allowing a manufacturer to monopolize an entire style of product as opposed to a single instantiation thereof,” she said.
Trader Joe’s and Pepperidge response
Director of public relations at Trader Joe’s said the company does not comment on the pending litigation.
Pepperidge Farm’s senior communications specialist, Kristin Cagney, said: “The trust Pepperidge Farm has built with consumers is of utmost importance to us. We enforce and defend our valuable trademark rights and we want consumers to be sure of the source of their products.”
Pepperidge Farm said it notified Trader Joe’s in August. However: “Trader Joe’s has failed to terminate its wrongful conduct,” it said in the suit.
Pepperidge Farm wants to stop Trader Joe’s from selling Crispy Cookies and hopes to recover damages.