Frito-Lay again victorious over ruling of generic ‘pretzel crisps’ trademark

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

It's three to one to Frito-Lay versus Snyder's-Lance. Pic: GettyImages/serggn
It's three to one to Frito-Lay versus Snyder's-Lance. Pic: GettyImages/serggn

Related tags: pretzels, Frito-lay north america, Campbell soup company, Snyder's-Lance

Frito-Lay and Snyder’s-Lance came head to head in court again over a 12-year-long dispute to register the term ‘pretzel crisps’ as a federal trademark.

Once again, a federal court judge ruled in favour of PepsiCo's Frito-Lay, which was challenging the validity of Snyder’s registration of ‘pretzel crisps’.

Judge Kenneth Bell decreed that a single company cannot monopolise the term ‘pretzel crisps’, despite concerted efforts by Snyder’s since 2009 to register it as a federal trademark.

The 12-year saga

Princeton Vanguard – which was acquired by Snyder’s in 2012 – applied for a ‘Pretzel Crisps’ federal trademark for its flat pretzel crackers in 2004.

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) registered the mark on its supplemental register rather than the principal register because it was deemed descriptive.

Princeton reapplied for registration on the principal register in 2009, contending the term had become a recognised brand name for its snacks. However, Rold Gold pretzel maker Frito-Lay countered the argument, stating the term was a generic description for that class of snacks and therefore could not be registered.

Two federal appeals courts – the 7th​ Circuit in 2014 and the 9th​ Circuit in 2017 – have subsequently ruled that the mark is generic. Again, the most recent ruling by the 4th​ US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the argument put forward by Snyder's (now owned by Campbell Soup Company​).

According to Judge Bell, although ‘pretzel crisps’ is widely assumed by consumers to refer to Snyder’s snacks – primarily thanks to its trademark registration efforts to “clear the field”​ of similarly named products – the producer cannot “monopolise the common name”.

The case is Snyder’s-Lance Inc v. Frito-Lay North America Inc,​ U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, No. 3:17-cv-00652. Bill Barber and David Armendariz of Pirkey Barber and Alice Richey of Alexander Ricks represented Frito-Lay; while David Bernstein of Debevoise & Plimpton represented Snyder’s-Lance.

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