The Exchange

Beyond Apple-Samsung: Battles Over Chocolate, Skulls and Shoes

The Exchange

On Friday, Aug. 24, a verdict was reached in the landmark Apple-Samsung case, with Apple (AAPL) winning $1 billion after a jury found Samsung infringed six out of seven patents for its mobile devices. An epic case in trademark and patent law, the verdict could have far-reaching implications for the smartphone industry. The tech universe is littered with high-profile patent and trademark cases, but every industry has its share of disputes over trademarks and manufacturing methods. Here are some other cases that have made -- smaller -- headlines of late.

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Levi Protects Its Pocket: San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. has filed close to 100 lawsuits nationally and internationally -- including against such big-name brands as Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), Guess (GES), Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren (RL) and Wet Seal  (WTSLA) -- since 2001, all alleging trademark infringement of its iconic back-pocket design. Levi filed to trademark the double-stitched connecting arches in 1978, although the design has actually existed since 1873. Back in 2007, a New York Times article called the back-pocket conflict "the biggest legal battleground in American fashion." Five years later, the battle shows no sign of slowing down.

Willa, Wella -- What's in a Name? Consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble (PG) went after a small-time businesswoman last year — and settled. Connecticut mother and entrepreneur Christy Prunier created a beauty line for the tween set back in 2008, naming it after her young daughter, Willa. But the Ohio-based P&G, feeling the name was too close for comfort — in legal terms, "confusingly similar" -- to its own hair care line, Wella, filed a cease and desist order against Prunier once she attained trademark approval.  Just before the case was set to go to trial, the two sides settled. Specifics of the settlement were not disclosed, but the bottom line is that Prunier emerged with the rights to use the Willa name.

The Chocolate War: After battling chocolate-treat competitor Nestle for three years over a specific shade of purple used on its packaging, British sweet-maker Cadbury emerged the victor last November, taking with it its intact Pnatone 2865C patent. The patent was granted by the British Intellectual Property Office (the IPO) in 2008 and disputed by Swiss-based Nestle, who argued that the color was not distinctive enough for Cadbury to claim its own. Interestingly, a study conducted by the IPO found that 44% of people immediately associated that shade of purple with Cadbury; the company has been using this particular color on its packaging for more than 100 years but only began seeking exclusive rights to the color in the mid 1990s. The  ruling in the case only gave Cadbury the exclusive rights to the shade on packaging for chocolate bars and drinking chocolate; Nestle and other chocolate manufacturers are free to use the shade for packaging of food items in other categories.

Battle of the Skulls: Colorful-headphones and accessories company Skullcandy (SKUL) filed suit last year against a smaller and newer company called Skelanimals, charging that the black and white skull used in their branding is an infringement on Skullcandy's similar logo. Skelanimals sells teen clothes and plushy stuffed animals embossed with arguably cute-looking skulls.  According to the filing, Skullcandy charges that "The skull logos used by Defendants…are colorable imitations of Skullcandy's registered logo, and Defendants' use of such logos in association with the aforementioned products is likely to cause confusion, to cause mistake, or to deceive the consuming public." The case is ongoing.

Skullcandy debuted on the Nasdaq last July 20; it was priced at $20 a share — above the expected range -- and traded up 23% at the open before largely fizzling by the close.  It's now trading well below its offer price at $15 a share, but it is up more than 20% year-to date.

Tootsie Doesn't Want to Play Footzy: Candy-maker Tootsie Roll (TR) isn't too sweet on a footwear company called Rollashoes. Last year Tootsie filed suit against the company when it debuted a line of women's shoes dubbed Footzyrolls, which apparently have the ability to be rolled up and placed into a purse. The name might seem fitting, but according to the filing, Tootsie feels that "Rollashoe's use of Footzyrolls alone or as a formative so resembles each of the Tootsie Roll marks in sound, commercial impression and appearance that when used in association with footwear, it is likely to cause confusion, to cause mistake or to deceive. Rollashoe's conduct affects intrastate and interstate commerce." The case is ongoing.

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