The Greatest Legal Opinion of All Time

Twenty years ago, Jim Henson released Muppet Treasure Island and the accompanying merch. The film included a charming boar named Spa’am.

The executives at Hormel were “not amused” and worried that their sales of SPAM would plummet if it were linked with “evil in porcine form.” (You really can’t make this stuff up.)

There’s a veritable treasure trove of brilliance in Judge Ellsworth Van Graafeiland’s opinion. His destruction of Hormel’s infringement and blurring claims were just the warm-up. He really starts to sing when he addresses Hormel’s claim that Henson’s use tarnishes the SPAM trademark.[1]

Tanishment is when someone’s trademark suffers negative associations, usually associations with sex, sex, or crime. Hormel claimed that “linking its luncheon meat with a wild boar will adversely color consumers’ impressions of SPAM.”

Judge Van G pointed out that Spa’am is “a likeable, positive character” that won’t generate “any negative associations.” There was “no evidence that Spa’am is unhygienic or that his character places Hormel’s mark in an unsavory context.” (Seriously, there was an expert in children’s literature who testified that “Spa’am is a positive figure . . . even if he is not ‘classically handsome.’”)

Then Judge Van G gets out his hammer for the last nail in the Hormel coffin: A “simple humorous reference to the fact that SPAM is made from pork is unlikely to tarnish Hormel’s mark.”

That can be loosely translated to: SPAM isn’t exactly a luxury brand and being linked to the Muppets can only help.

I love you, Judge Van G.

[1] There’s this thing called dilution. It’s not infringement and isn’t based on being confusingly similar. There are two kinds of dilution: Blurring and tarnishment. Hormel claimed both.

 

One thought on “The Greatest Legal Opinion of All Time

  1. Pingback: Just Kidding | Bee Blog

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