Court Affirms Preliminary Injunction Against Food Sales Infringing Trademarked "Cracker Barrel" Name
Kraft Foods Group, Inc. (KRFT), a company whose mention instantly conjures up images of arguably delicious and unfortunately lactose-filled cheese, recently obtained a preliminary injunction stopping Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (CBRL) from selling food products in grocery stores using the Cracker Barrel moniker.
To simplify matters, the court and the relevant parties acronymized Cracker Barrel Old Country Store to CBOCS.
Cracker Barrel is a trademark registered to Kraft which, along with the Kraft logo, often appears on its cheese products in grocery stores. Kraft filed the initial complaint back in January of this year, citing the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051. CBOCS had begun selling their hams in grocery stores before receiving the initial district court injunction.
CBOCS appealed the Northern Illinois District Court decision, and argued for the right to keep the Cracker Barrel label on its “ham…, delicatessen meats, bacon, sausages, jerky, meat glazes, baking mixes, coating mixes, oatmeal, grits, and gravies.” The appeal was heard by Judges Posner, Rovner, and Hamilton in the Seventh Circuit.
In their decision, which was handed down on November 14th of this year, the judges affirmed the lower court’s decision stating the following:
“It’s not the fact that the parties’ trade names are so similar that is decisive, nor even the fact that the products are similar (low‐cost packaged food items). It is those similarities coupled with the fact that, if CBOCS prevails in this suit, similar products with confusingly similar trade names will be sold through the same distribution channel—grocery stores, and often the same grocery stores—and advertised together.”
“The competing products would also be likely to appear in the same store circulars. Such similarities and overlap would increase the likelihood of consumer confusion detrimental to Kraft.”
In short, the Circuit Court took issue with CBOCS’ Cracker Barrel labeling on two levels; first, the court recognized the damage that an inferior CBOCS product could do to the unrelated Kraft brand, and second, the court worried about setting a precedent wherein companies could effectively piggyback on the notoriety and success of more established, well-known brands, regardless of whether or not this was CBOCS’ intention here.
Indeed, CBOCS is itself a well-established company, having emerged as the United States’ third largest family-dining chain since its establishment in 1969. However, Kraft was established more than a half century before this in 1903. Even its trademark on the Cracker Barrel name is older than CBOCS, having been registered in 1957.
In any case, it is presently unclear whether the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store will attempt to further appeal the decision, but one thing is clear; if you want to avoid unnecessary and costly legal action, make sure your brand is unmistakably yours.
Law Clerk at
JAFARI LAW GROUP®, INC.