Hormel challenges trademark

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2003

Hormel Foods Corp. is challenging SpamArrest LLC, a Seattle Internet company, for a trademark on its program to fight junk e-mail.

Spam Arrest, software designed to stop unsolicited e-mail, was approved as a trademark in early 2002. Hormel challenged the trademark June 23 in a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, according to the trademark office.

SPAM, a Hormel Foods canned luncheon meat, has become a slang term for unsolicited e-mail in the last few years. Hormel acknowledges this on its SPAM Web site, stating "We do not object to use of this slang term to describe (unsolicited commercial e-mail), although we do object to the use of our product image in association with that term."

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Hormel Foods spokeswoman Julie Craven declined comment on the challenge.

Another trademark application under the name SpamArrest was also filed last year, but Hormel challenged the application before it was granted, according to SpamArrest LLC. That trademark application is now pending.

SpamArrest is the company's name and arbitrary trademark and is not claiming the right to use the generic term "spam" on its own, said Derek Newman, an attorney representing SpamArrest LLC.

"Inexplicably Hormel is challenging anyone who uses the word spam as part of a trademark," Newman said. "Spam has become ubiquitous throughout the world to describe unsolicited commercial e-mail."

Brian Cartmell, president and CEO of SpamArrest LLC, said his company's use of the word has nothing to do with Hormel's product. But Hormel officials disagree, arguing that the company has carefully protected and invested in the brand name SPAM. Hormel has 14 trademarks for SPAM, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Hormel also argues that use of the name by other companies could potentially harm its business and expresses concern that the public could confuse the meat product with the technology company.

Sharon Marsh, an administrator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, said challenges are filed for a variety of reasons.

"(Those who file complaints) are objecting to an application somebody has submitted for a mark that is likely to cause confusion or dilutes their mark," Marsh said.

The next step is a hearing before the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board. But that hearing date probably will not be set for months.

Once a decision is made, it only affects whether a company can register a name as a trademark, not whether it could use it. Use of a name would need to be decided by a federal court.

--The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at cari.quam@austindailyherald.com