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Tinned meat giant turns up the legal heat

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Spam King Scott Richter's plans to launch a global clothing line under the "Spam King" and "SK" brands have come apart at the seams.

The highly-popular Richter - founder of spam tsunamist outfit OptInBig.com - has received a cease and desist notice from meat conglomerate Hormel, makers of the nourishing real deal.

As the entertaining SPAM website puts it: "The following trademarks used or which are planned to be used in this site, whether registered or unregistered, are owned by Hormel Foods: SPAM; HORMEL; SPAMBURGER; SPAMTASTIC and any other SPAM-derived terms.

Hormel also outlines its position vis-a-vis use of the word spam for meaning other than a delicious, meat-based product:

You've probably seen, heard or even used the term "spamming" to refer to the act of sending unsolicited commercial email (UCE), or "spam" to refer to the UCE itself. Following is our position on the relationship between UCE and our trademark SPAM.

Use of the term "spam" was adopted as a result of the Monty Python skit in which our SPAM meat product was featured. In this skit, a group of Vikings sang a chorus of "spam, spam, spam . . . " in an increasing crescendo, drowning out other conversation. Hence, the analogy applied because UCE was drowning out normal discourse on the Internet.

We do not object to use of this slang term to describe UCE, although we do object to the use of the word "spam" as a trademark and to the use of our product image in association with that term. Also, if the term is to be used, it should be used in all lower-case letters to distinguish it from our trademark SPAM, which should be used with all uppercase letters.

In the circumstances, Richter's ambitions to punt (inedible) panties, baseball caps and t-shirts under the Spam moniker seem doomed to failure. The man himself is reported as saying that whereas the clothing initially "went well", that he had "not done a lot with it since [the Hormel letter]".

Shame. But while long-suffering email users might applaud Hormel's grilling of the Czar of Spam, the company has launched a series of litigious offensives against other alleged violators of the SPAM brand.

Some have crumpled almost immediately, although there are signs that the tide is turning. In late May, Seattle-based Spam Arrest LLC asked a judge to end Hormel's trademark action against it.

Since Spam Arrest holds the US trademark for its own name, the argument seems solid. Spam Arrest's battling prez Cameron Elliott proclaimed: "Hormel's long history of intimidation ends today. Nobody would confuse Spam Arrest's cutting edge spam stopping products with Hormel's canned pork. We have every right to use the word 'spam' in our trademark and our filing today should end Hormel's effort to wrongly appropriate the generic term for itself."

Spam Arrest's attorney Derek Newman added: "Spam Arrest's trademark will not dilute Hormel's ability to use SPAM as a unique identifier. All parties acknowledge that Hormel's mark has already lost that ability. This motion for summary judgment should result in Hormel's claims being dismissed."

The summary judgement (PDF) deploys some entertaining defensive arguments, including a couple of beauties under the "Use of registrant's mark does not dilute Hormel's mark" heading. One is that the "Registrant's Product bears No 'Inferior or Offensive' Connotation"; furthermore, "Hormel's Product Enjoys a Less-Than-Sterling Reputation". Ouch.

The fact is that Hormel is ultimately on a hike to nowhere. The word spam means "unsolicited junk email" to millions of spotty youths who have probably never even had the good fortune to enjoy a SPAMTASTIC™ porkesque fritter, and the meat monolith will not be able to restrict its use, no matter how hard that may be to swallow. ®

Bootnote

Mr Richter is no stranger to using the big stick himself: he recently got a gagging order against anti-spam reporting service SpamCop which obliged the latter to "temporarily stop reporting complaints about Richter's company". The gag was subsequently lifted.

Related stories

Spammer prosecutions waste time and money
SpamCop gets gagging order lifted
'Spam King' gets restraining order against SpamCop

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