Surprising Lessons

I read stuff so you don’t have to. It’s a public service and I take it seriously. I have some fascinating lessons for your learning pleasure this week.

I’ll start with a couple of surprising sentences from page 18 of a 65-page ruling of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board: “Both parties submitted documents in whole or in part in a foreign language without an English translation. Material in a foreign languages which has not been translated into English has limited probative value.”

Do you get the feeling this case might have needed a change of venue?

You’d be wrong if you did. The dispute that generated 65 pages worth of ruling (on the English parts of the arguments) was over whether the term “Gruyere” could be registered in the United States for cheese.

I won’t attempt to summarize the ruling, but there are some interesting bits you may want to know about. My favorite is that there is a World Championship Cheese Contest. Do you think they’re holding it without spectators this year?

There’s also something called “The Oxford Companion to Cheese.” My guess is the companion is a bottle of wine.

Meanwhile, on another intellectual property front, a federal judge in Maryland has issued a ruling in a trademark infringement suit over the term “crab bomb.”

Do you want to guess what a crab bomb is? If I hadn’t read the ruling, I would have said it had something to do with sex work. It turns out, though, that crab bombs are “larger baked entrees made from lump crab meat.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m not ordering any food called a bomb. I have enough digestive issues. So I don’t know why this was worth litigating.

There was also this toward the end of the ruling: “It defies logic that a plaintiff can recover for unfair competition when it does not conduct business and thus does not compete with anyone, let alone the defendant.”

I guess if you’re not doing any business, litigation can be a fun way to pass the time.

Now here’s another sentence you probably never expected to see from a New York federal judge’s ruling last week: “To understand this case, one must understand vanilla.”

You might think this sentence is followed by an explanation of vanilla, but all it says in the ruling is that the flavoring comes from seeds in the vanilla bean pods. I have no idea why this must be understood.

Be that as it may, this is another one of those fascinating philosophical damages cases. It’s a class action claiming consumers were misled by a label on root beer and cream soda that says they contain “aged vanilla.” I assume this means that no underaged vanillas were exploited to make these drinks.

The plaintiff’s theory, I guess, is that there’s a consumer out there who would have avoided those drinks if only they had known the vanilla was mostly artificial.

If you think that’s reasonable, check out the labels on the bottles of A&W root beer and cream soda. Other ingredients include high fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate, caramel colors and artificial flavors. If A&W had used real vanilla, would this have been a health food?

Imagine how frustrating this must have been for vanilla fans.

Recommended reading. Every now and then I come across a lawsuit or an appellate opinion that cries out for a film or miniseries adaptation. I have one for your enjoyment this week from the Texas Court Appeals called Belcher v. King. Go read it when you get a chance.

I won’t spoil all the details for you, but I do want to point out that the real lesson to be learned from this ruling is don’t mess with anyone who claims their chickens are emotional-support animals.

Think about this. If the fowl-friend claim is true, it would be cruel to take the chickens away. If it’s not true, you may be dealing with people who might say or do anything.

In this particular case, the chicken dispute began in 2012 and, among other things, caused one homeowners association officer so much stress that he claims it gave him heart trouble and caused a divorce.

So tell your clients to ignore chickens, move away or buy a fox.

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