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7th Cir. Ends ‘Land O’ Lakes’ Trademark Battle

CHICAGO (CN) - The Seventh Circuit dismissed a trademark battle between the Land O'Lakes dairy company and Land O Lakes fishing tackle maker, finding no chance consumers could confuse butter and fishing tackle.

James Hugunin manufactures and sells fishing tackles under the name Land O Lakes, after a region in northern Wisconsin popular among fishermen.

However, a large agricultural cooperative in Minnesota named Land O'Lakes took issue with Hugunin's use of the name.

The cooperative, which sells butter and other dairy products, has been using the name since the 1920s. It demanded Hugunin pay for a license to use the name, or give up his trademark.

"We're puzzled that the dairy company should have been worried by Hugunin's use of the same trademark," U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner said, writing for the Seventh Circuit's three-judge panel.

While Land O'Lakes advertises its dairy products in fishing magazines, and even sponsors a finishing competition, there is no chance its products could be confused with Hugunin's fishing tackle, the panel found.

"It would be strange indeed for a dairy company to manufacture a product so remote from milk, butter, and cream, and there is no sign that the dairy company intends to take the plunge. The company sponsors the angling tournament and advertises in fishing magazines because fishermen, like the rest of us, are consumers of dairy products," Posner said.

The judge was equally puzzled by Hugunin's lawsuit against the dairy company for trademark infringement.

"Can one imagine Land O' Lakes advertising: 'we sell the finest dairy products and the best fishing tackle'?" Posner asked. (Emphasis in original.)

Even the dairy company's fishing-themed advertisements featuring a champion fisherman whom it sponsors in fishing competitions are unlikely to confuse consumers, the court ruled.

"The fisherman is shown sitting next to packages of Land O' Lakes butter and cheese. The dairy company's logo is also found on fishing boats during tournaments. But just as no one watching a NASCAR race and seeing a racing car emblazoned with Budweiser's logo would think that the beer company had entered the automobile industry, so no one reading the 'Walleye Pro' ad or seeing a boat sponsored by the dairy company would think that the advertiser sells fishing tackle," the opinion concluded.

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