SAN JOSE, Calif. (ACNI) – When it comes to protecting its trademarks and copyrights, no one is more PEZ-essive than Patrafico AG, the Swiss manufacturer of PEZ candies and dispensers. Want proof? The parent company of PEZ has filed a lawsuit against the Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia in Burlingame, Calif., claiming the museum’s owners, Gary and Nancy Doss, infringed on their copyright by displaying a 7 foot 10 inch faux PEZ snowman dispenser on their premises.
Reportedly, the giant figure – which weighs 85 lbs. and was crafted by several local artisans – made it into the Guinness Book of World RecordsTM in 2007, with the distinction of being the world’s largest candy dispenser. A true working model with a tilt-back head, the snowman dispenses a rectangular clear-plastic capsule that can accommodate 6,480 PEZ candies or a standard-size PEZ dispenser. Each dispensed capsule is accompanied by a signed and numbered certificate stating it came from the world’s largest candy dispenser
The first capsule dispensed by the snowman figure was videotaped in the presence of Burlingame’s former mayor, Cathy Baylock, and Councilmember Russ Cohen, on Oct. 7, 2007. The memento was auctioned on eBay to benefit the Burlingame Historical Society.
(View the video of the event at www.burlingamepezmuseum.com).
PEZ views the snowman as a three-dimensional infringement on its trademark and, in the federal lawsuit filed in the California Northern District Court, San Jose, Calif., on June 22, 2009, claims the figure’s existence “deceive(s) the public into thinking that the museum is operating under the authority of PEZ.” But that’s not where it stops. The PEZ company is equally unamused by two toy-truck dispensers the Dosses altered to include campaign slogans for both Barack Obama and John McCain (e.g., “Obama ’08 for PEZident”), museum T-shirts that say “Got PEZ?,” and the incorporation of the word “pez” in the couple’s Web sites www.burlingamepezmuseum.com and www.worldslargestpezdispenser.com.
In an interview with Auction Central News, Gary Doss said Patrafico AG’s complaint asks the court to bar the museum from using PEZ trademarks “in any conduct that is likely to cause confusion, deception or mistake” by consumers. Patrafico AG is seeking monetary damages and asks that they be tripled to punish the defendants for their alleged infringement. The complaint also requests that all infringing products be destroyed.
“Over the 14 years we’ve operated the museum, we’ve gotten many cease-and-desist letters (from PEZ), and some of the requests have been so silly,” said Doss, “but it took me by surprise that they would have three lawyers file a real federal complaint in San Jose…Interestingly enough, they have not served me with the complaint, so from a legal standpoint, it’s not really a lawsuit yet. My initial thought was that it’s a ploy to intimidate me to get out of the business.”
Asked why the parent company of PEZ would want to make it so difficult for a museum to stay in business when,essentially, it’s a free means of promoting the candy manufacturer’s products, Doss replied: “I can only speculate, after much discussion about the topic, that they may want to start their own museum. They’ve ignored collectors for all these years, and I guess they want to get rid of me, now.”
Doss said he has “done everything possible” to comply with PEZ Candy Inc.’s previous demands. “Originally we called the snowman ‘the world’s largest PEZ dispenser.’ When they got upset, we changed it to ‘the world’s largest dispenser of PEZ, so there could be no mistake about who made (the snowman). Another concern was the video, so we edited it to remove the word ‘PEZ.’ After that, we got the letter from their attorneys.”
The inclusion of PEZ’s parent company, Patrafico AG, as plaintiff in the complaint was “probably an intimidation tactic,” Doss said, “and for the first few days, they did a pretty job of it. It was definitely intimidating that a big multinational corporation and three New York lawyers were coming after us. But then, out of the blue, we were contacted by a leading trademark lawyer here in the Bay Area, Roger Cole of the firm Fenwick & Smith in Mountain View (Calif.). He heard about the case and offered to represent us pro bono.”
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” Doss concluded. “I’m sure there are many frivolous letters served by big corporations every day. But in our case, someone has stepped in to protect the little guy.”
Auction Central News will report on any further developments in this case.
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PEZ is a registered trademark of PEZ Candy Inc.
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