U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Judge Posner Dismisses Suit That Pits Butter Against Fishing Tackle

You really have to hand it Judge Posner. He and his court have a fantastic ability to make reading appellate decisions an actual delight. In this trademark infringement lawsuit, a tiny company and the famous maker of Land O' Lakes butter lost to each other in court before a bemused Judge Posner.

If you saw a fishing rod stamped with the name "LAND O LAKES" on the shaft, would you think it was made by the butter company? Judge Posner doesn't think so.

Fishing and Butter

James Hugunin sold fishing tackle in the region of Northeastern Wisconsin -- a land dotted with lakes and appropriately known by the locals as Land O' Lakes. In 2000, he secured the trademark for "LAND O LAKES" as the trademark for his fishing tackle.

Coincidentally, the Land O'Lakes agricultural cooperative famous for its butter operates out of Minnesota, the land of a thousand lakes. It too holds a trademark of "LAND O LAKES" which it has been using on its dairy products since the 1920s.

In another timing coincidence, the butter company became the official sponsor of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour sport fishing tournament and advertised its goods in fishing magazines. Huganin's original registration had lapsed and the company sued to enjoin him from reregistering. Huganin sued the butter company, and the butter company counter-sued.

Theories

Judge Posner could not sympathize with either company. "We're puzzled," he said, "that the dairy company should have been worried by Hugunin's use of the same trademark." After all, consumer confusion here is a non issue because all the giant company does is sell dairy products and all it advertises is dairy products.

The same went for Hugunin. "Can one imagine Land O' Lakes advertising: 'we sell the finest diary products and the best fishing tackle'?" From Hugunin's vantage point, confusion might even be a goodthing.

The circuit simply could not countenance the theories of either company that use of the LAND O LAKES name would cause harm in the form of market confusion to either company. The products are simply too disparate and the companies are simply too different in size.

"It is beyond unlikely that someone dissatisfied with LAND O LAKES fishing tackle would take revenge on the dairy company by not buying any of its products," said the Seventh Circuit. More likely is a scenario that market consumers haven't even given the relationship between fishing tackle and butter any passing thought.

Both companies' suits were dismissed.

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