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Dunkin' Donuts Sued for Trademark Infringement

trademark.jpgWith more than 12,000 locations around the globe, Dunkin' Donuts is one of the world's largest restaurant chains. The company recently expanded into California, opening up its first free-standing restaurants in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles. Now, the company is facing a trademark infringement claim. According to reporting from Reuters, the donut and coffee giant was recently sued by Heartland Consumer Products. Heartland makes Splenda, one of the country's most popular artificial sweeteners.

Understanding the Trademark Lawsuit Against Dunkin' Donuts

It is no secret that many consumers drink their coffee with sugar or artificial sweeteners. At its restaurants, Dunkin' Donuts provides customers with complimentary packets that contain an artificial sweetener. However, the version used by the donut chain does not actually state the manufacturer (a little-known company from Chicago) on the label. Heartland believes that the packaging of Dunkin' Donuts artificial sweeteners is too similar to Splenda. Heartland filed a trademark claim on the grounds that Dunkin' Donuts was intentionally creating confusion in the minds of its customers. The Splenda maker requested an immediate injunction against Dunkin' Donuts until this case can be resolved. Heartland offered two primary pieces of evidence to support their trademark infringement claim:

  1. Both Splenda and the Dunkin' Donuts alternative artificial sweetener come in a similarly sized little yellow packet: and
  2. Sometimes, Dunkin' Donuts employees tell customers that they offer Splenda, seemingly as shorthand for referring to artificial sweeteners in general.

The Trademark Infringement Standard: Confusingly Similar Products

To prevail in a trademark infringement claim, the plaintiff must prove that the alleged infringing mark is likely to create confusion in the minds of reasonable consumers. In other words, it is trademark infringement if a product is so similar to another brand that many consumers will be unlikely to know the difference. California courts assess this standard by using a totality of the circumstances calculation. Essentially, courts will consider all information that is relevant to the claim and will try to balance it together to come to a fair conclusion. Using the U.S. Trademark statutes, the three most important factors that courts will consider in trademark infringement cases are:

  • The similarities in the overall character and design of the products in question;
  • The intent of the defendant; and
  • Any evidence that can be presented that suggests that customer confusion has already taken place.

If you are involved in a trademark infringement dispute, you need to take immediate action. You should get your case in the hands of an experienced San Jose unfair competition lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will be able to review your case in detail and help determine exactly what needs to be done to protect the value of your brand.

Do You Need Trademark Law Assistance?

At Diemer, Whitman & Cardosi, LLP, our dedicated San Jose trademark litigation lawyers have the skills and knowledge necessary to help you protect your brand. Please do not hesitate to contact us today to set up your no-fee, no-obligation initial legal consultation. We proudly serve businesses throughout the Bay Area, including in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.

Sources:

http://www.reuters.com/article/ip-dunkin-tm-idUSL1N1DA1AU

https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/trademarks/law/Trademark_Statutes.pdf

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