Since my colleague Jack Wheat has designated the entire week as “pork week,” I have been asked to write on a pig-related theme. Writing on this theme is not new to me – I previously wrote about how a hog call could become a trademark for “providing collegiate athletic and sporting events.” This week, we are going to talk about a trademark dispute involving the famous “three little pigs” that’s happening right in our backyard in Washington, D.C.
The three little pigs of the fairy tale are well known, although they have been represented in many different ways. Here is one representation of the pigs:
There are many different versions of the fairy tale, including a version in which the wolf is eaten, but probably most of us became familiar with the pigs from the Disney cartoon in which two of them suffered the wolf’s destruction of their homes because they did not take the time and trouble to build them from bricks like the third, more practical, pig.
A New York company called “Les Trois Petits Cochons, Inc” obtained a registration in 1996 of the logo below containing “Trois Petits Cochons” and the English translation “Three Little Pigs” for various meat products and has since obtained additional registrations of the logo for an expanded number of meat products:
An example of use of the logo can also be seen on the company’s web site.
Les Trois Petits Cochons also obtained registrations of the words “THREE LITTLE PIGS” and “TROIS PETITS COCHONS” themselves.
Although the three little pigs in the logo appear inexplicably happy, these little piggies were certainly not happy to learn that there were three other little pigs in Washington, D.C. in the same business i.e. a “Three Little Pigs Charcuterie & Salami”.
One might ask about what right a company in New York has to prevent the use of “Three Little Pigs” in D.C. The complaint filed by Les Trois Petits Cochons addresses that question. The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia states that products sold under Les Trois Petits Cochons’s marks have been “extensively promoted and sold throughout the United States, including in this judicial district – in brick and mortar shops; through its mail order, telephone order, and internet businesses; and through several well-known internet retailers.”
The company’s federal registrations also provide it with a tremendous advantage. Apart from whatever rights Les Trois Petits Cochons was able to establish through use, it also has nationwide rights in the marks in its registrations dating from the filing of the applications, with the first one being filed on February 8, 1995. Anyone who uses a confusingly similar mark for related products subsequent to that date uses the mark at his or her own risk since all that Les Trois Petits Cochons has to do is show that it has expanded or is likely to expand into that area.
The lesson from the practical pig is that for anyone thinking of building a business, it is important to conduct a search to try to make sure that there isn’t anyone out there who might be standing outside your door some day telling you to take down your signs.
In case you need a refresher on how the fairy tale goes, here’s a clip:
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