The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes. Over half a decade ago, Techdirt covered a bakery out of Pennsylvania that used trademark laws to keep another bakery from putting smiley-faces
on its cookies. Frankly, it's one of those stories we cover where the immediate question of how trademarks could be twisted into this nonsense is immediately followed by the assumption that the whole thing will soon go away, never to be repeated again.
Not so much in this case, as it turns out. Eat'n Park recently once again brought a federal trademark suit against another company for daring to put the universal symbol for happiness on a cookie.
Eat'n Park this week sued a Chicago company in federal court over its use of a cookie that the Pittsburgh restaurant chain says is too similar to its trademarked Smiley face cookie. The suit filed Tuesday said Chicago American Sweet & Snacks sells cookies called "Smiley's" that Eat'n Park says are a lot like its product. Eat'n Park has sold its Smiley cookies since 1985 and has filed numerous trademark infringement suits against various companies over the years to protect the design.
It should be noted that the dispute also seems to be about the two company logos for their respective smiley-face cookie brands, not just about the baked goods. Here are the logos for both.
Now, let's leave aside for a moment the fact that the two logos don't look anything alike and are about as likely to be confused with one another as my manly physique is likely to be confused with a professional bodybuilder's. Instead, I'd like to propose that there should be a provision in trademark law that goes something like this: if your distinctive logo is so generic that tons of your competitors keep accidentally coming upon the same base design as yours, nobody gets to trademark it. Think of it as something like an independent invention test for patents. We can call it the Geigner rule, because vanity is my trademark, jerks.
“In this particular case, the “Smiley’s Cookies” logo name and design used by the company infringes on our brand trademark,“ said spokesman Kevin O’Connell.
If it was audible, Mr. O'Connell would be hearing the sound of my eyes rolling. Nobody is associating a smiley-face cookie with any particular brand, because the very idea seems like the kind of thing that everyone came up with when making cookies in their home kitchens. Maybe it's time someone do a cookie with an "R" encircled by the treat, huh?