August 21, 2014

Chicago Mix, fresh from Minnesota???

Candyland, a small chain of candy stores in Minnesota, holds the federal trademark registration for CHICAGO MIX, which it uses for its mixture of salted, caramel, and cheese-flavored popcorn. (The trademark registration issued in 1992 and states a first use date of 1990, although Candyland's owner claims the company has used it since 1988. Interestingly, Candyland does not appear to claim any trademark rights in CANDYLAND, a mark which happens to be owned by Hasbro, Inc.)
Unfortunately for the Minnesota Candyland, many other companies also use CHICAGO MIX or related terms to describe their similar products, including Chicago-based Garrett Popcorn Shops, which claims to have been selling CHICAGO MIX popcorn "for decades" (and therefore, presumably, before Candyland acquired its trademark rights). (Garrett's CHICAGO MIX omits the salted popcorn, combining only caramel and cheese-flavored popcorn. It would be interesting to compare them side-by-side, but Garrett's popcorn is best eaten fresh from the store, and I imagine the same is true for Candyland's.)
Ironically, Candyland's own website contains a long list of competitors that use CHICAGO MIX or related terms. It's easy to find many more that aren't on Candyland's list (e.g., Utz Chicago-Style, Nuts on Clark Chicago Mix, Popcornopolis Chicago Style, Brooklyn Popcorn Chicago Mix, Popcorn Haven Chicago Style, The Popcorn Fanatic Chicago Mix, Popcorn Palace Chicago Chic, Great American Popcorn Chicago Mix, Popilicious Chicago Mix, Pittsburgh Popcorn Chicago Blend, Kettle Boys Chicago Mix, and Chicago Gold Popcorn Windy City Mix). It seems to me that CHICAGO MIX is likely a generic term for a mixture that includes caramel and cheese-flavored popcorn. The CHICAGO MIX term is widely used around the country, but I wonder how many people outside Minnesota have ever heard of Candyland.
Candyland recently filed lawsuits against Garrett's and two other companies (Snyder's-Lance and Cornfields) for infringing upon its CHICAGO MIX trademark. (One of the allegations in the lawsuit is that Garrett's use of the CHICAGO MIX mark is likely to deceive consumers as to the origin of Garrett's popcorn, apparently making them think that CHICAGO MIX popcorn comes from Chicago rather than Minnesota.)

June 18, 2014

Get your cheap Redskins gear here!

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today canceled the Washington Redskins' trademark registration, on the grounds that the name is disparaging to Native Americans. The NFL is expected to appeal the order in court, and if they lose (and perhaps even if they don't), the team may eventually adopt a new name.

In the meantime, however, what this means is that anyone can freely use the Redskins name and logo without paying royalties or getting permission from the NFL. As a result, I think we're likely to see a glut of bootleg Redskins apparel -- including items that the NFL would never have approved, some of which will probably be much more disparaging than the name itself. (Granted, some of the most outrageous items might have been permissible as parodies anyway.)

April 17, 2014

Top-secret cereal arbitration

General Mills recently revised the terms posted on its website, adding a provision that requires disputes between consumers and the company to be brought in binding arbitration. The interesting part is this: The arbitration provision says it applies to "all disputes or claims arising out of this Agreement or your purchase or use of any General Mills product or service for personal or household use." In other words, if you want to sue General Mills because there weren't enough marshmallows in your Lucky Charms, you have to bring the claim in arbitration rather than in court (assuming that the amount of your claim exceeds the small claims court maximum -- and if you're really going to sue over something like this, you might as well aim high).

The New York Times is understandably troubled by this -- see When 'Liking' a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue -- but the requirement to arbitrate doesn't bother me nearly as much as the confidentiality provision:
Any arbitration will be confidential, and neither you nor General Mills may disclose the existence, content, or results of any arbitration, except as may be required by law or for purposes of enforcement of the arbitration award.
That strikes me as overreaching and contrary to public policy.  It's common for companies to agree that they will keep arbitration proceedings confidential (in many cases, including financial service providers, they're probably required to do so anyway), but prohibiting a consumer from disclosing information about the dispute is a very bad idea, and one that seems likely to backfire.

Update (4/21/14): General Mills has retracted the policy.

March 05, 2014

Some of Netflix's best customers are pirates

TorrentFreak is reporting that Netflix has thousands of paying subscribers in Australia. Since Netflix doesn't allow Australians to access its service, these folks are accessing Netflix via VPNs and similar services to conceal their location, paying monthly subscription fees to both Netflix and (in most instances) a VPN service as well.

TV networks are calling these people "pirates," but perhaps a more accurate term would be "customers."