Absurd Trademark Law Case of the Day

Via BNA’s Internet Law News, from the “does this argument pass the straight face test?” department:

Hormel Foods, which owns the trademark for the spiced-ham food product Spam, has failed in its attempt to register “spam” as a European Union-wide trademark when used to designate unsolicited e-mails. Hormel argued in an appeal to the Office of Harmonisation for the Internal Market, the EU trademark body, that the general public would not immediately recognize the use of the word spam as pertaining to junk e-mail but would instead associate it with “a kind of spicy ham” food product.


  1. James Grimmelmann Jan 28

    My attempt at mind-reading is that they don’t actually want the trademark in junk email. (More precisely, they would love to be able to get licensing revenues from spam-fighters, but they don’t realistically expect to win.) Instead, Hormel is quite litigious to prevent perceived dilution, because they fear losing their trademark as generic. Even within the category meat products, they have a classic product-is-the-genre problem. Thus, they feel it necessary to bring suits against other uses of SPAM to compile the classic record of “look, we police uses!” and to keep the public reminded that SPAM, among its other uses, is a Hormel meat product. The trouble is that every time they blow a suit like this (e.g., the suit against Henson), the public gets a nice reminder that Hormel is a nasty, litigious company and that SPAM doesn’t just mean a Hormel meat product.

  2. Adam Rosi-Kessel Jan 28

    Good point. I’m familiar with that rationale, but it begs the question: does it really help that much (from a trademark law perspective) to show you are vigorously policing your trademark when you always lose? As a defendant, I would be quick to point out the trademark owner’s record of losses before administrative and judicial bodies as evidence of lack of rights. It’s the same question when a trademark owner aggressively sends out cease and desist letters but then fails to follow through when the recipients refuse to comply. Would the trademark owner be better off if they had done nothing?

  3. HE Jan 28

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a can of spam in a foodstuff shop in Europe. And I’ve lived in France, Germany and Sweden.

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