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Kellogg’s Battling Maya Group Over Toucan Trademark

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Toco Toucan (ramphastos toco) by Gregory Moine on Flickr

Toco Toucan (ramphastos toco) by Gregory Moine on Flickr

Kellogg Company has filed a notice of opposition against the trademark registration application request of the Maya Archaeology Initiative (MAI), whose logo features a toucan. Kellogg’s avers that the image of a toucan in the culture heritage group’s logo could confuse consumers into thinking the it is associated with the cereal conglomerate, which owns the trademark for Toucan Sam, the Froot Loops’ mascot.

The toucan is featured on the MAI logo because the bird with the large, colorful beak is an important symbol of Maya culture, which the group seeks to preserve and protect. Kellogg’s, however, insists there’s only room for one toucan trademark in the world. Kind of like Highlander: “There can be only one [toucan]!”

Clay Haswell, chairman and co-founder of the World Free Press Institute (WFPI), which oversees MAI, said: “They essentially allege that they own trademark rights to all use of toucans anywhere in the world. The fact is they don’t. They have tried to make that claim previously in federal court.”

In the 2003 case referred to by Haswell, Kellogg’s lost out to Toucan Golf on a similar trademark claim in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court memorably noted that Toucan Sam “speaks with a British accent, allowing him to fervently sing the praises of the cereal he represents, and to entice several generations of children to “follow his nose” because “it always knows” where to find the Froot Loops.”

Neither Toucan Golf’s “GolfBird” nor MAI’s toucan, presumably, possesses either these physical characteristics or super-avian cereal-locating abilities. Nonetheless, Kellogg’s is “concerned about both consumer confusion and a dilution of our strong equity in these marks,” as stated in a letter from Kellogg’s Corporate Counsel David Herdman to MAI.

Unlike Kellogg’s concerns over consumers being rendered unsure about which toucan might be finding their breakfast cereal for them each morning, MAI is concerned with Maya cultural heritage, particularly in light of the fact that the Kellogg’s Fruit Loops website formerly featured a game that allowed users (presumably children) to search for Maya treasure, and in which “the only character of color is the villain, an evil witchdoctor who cackles and steals.” Kellogg’s has already removed the game from the site, according to SaveTheTribe.org.

Seems like Kellogg’s might be trying to burnish its image in the realm of cultural sensitivity . . . perhaps to avoid perceived insensitivity being in this case. After all, it’s not every day that a cereal company tries to cancel a centuries-old cultural icon on trademark grounds. If the court follows its nose on this one, it’s hard to imagine it finding Fruit Loops the victor.

So would the logos be confusing to consumers?

MAI logo alongside Toucan Sam

MAI logo alongside Toucan Sam via Indian Country Today Media Network, LLC

You make the call.

The parties are currently in negotiations regarding the trademark, so hopefully the tou-can come to an agreement out of court. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

What do you think of this dispute?

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<a href="http://www.sodahead.com/living/kelloggs-is-going-up-against-a-mayan-cultural-protection-group-in-a-trademark-battle-is-the-mai-to/question-2143037/" title="Kellogg’s is going up against a Mayan cultural protection group in a trademark battle. Is the MAI toucan infringing on Toucan Sam?”">Kellogg’s is going up against a Mayan cultural protection group in a trademark battle. Is the MAI toucan infringing on Toucan Sam?”</a>
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September 7th, 2011 at 11:12 am