Mattel has filed a lawsuit against Rap Snacks in the Los Angeles federal court, alleging the Nicki Minaj-branded Barbie-Que Honey Truffle potato chips violate its trademark rights.
Onika Tanya Maraj-Petty (aka Niki Minaj) has not been named as a co-defendant in the case, despite being known for using ‘Barbie’ as part of her persona. She even has a fanbase who call themselves ‘Barbz’.
In 2011, in collaboration with Mattel, the rapper created the Nicki Minaj Barbie Doll, with all proceeds going to Project Angel Food, which provides food for men, woman and children affected by HIV and AIDS.
The 39-year-old is one of the world’s best-selling music artists, with 100 million records sold and an estimated net worth of more than $130m.
Vehicle for social good
Miami-based Rap Snacks – founded by James Lindsay in 1994 – has a long history of collaborating with famous rappers, believing Hip Hop is ‘one of the most dynamic and powerfully diverse vehicles for social good’. Celeb collabs include Snoop Dogg, Master P, Lil Baby, Migos, Rick Ross and Moneybagg Yo, among others.
Lindsay aims ‘to inspire, challenge and empower young people from under-resourced communities like the one in which he was raised, to tap into the power of their youth through entrepreneurship and help them reach their full potential’.
In 2018, the company created the Boss Up initiative, a real-world experiential entrepreneurship programme that walks participants from the point of their passions and dreams to business plan, activation and achievement.
Its collab with Minaj resulted in the Barbie-Que potato chips launched in June, which Mattel claims happened “with much fanfare” … “including on a New York City billboard, promotional potato chip giveaways at a music festival in New Orleans, an exclusive article announcing the launch in People magazine, and continual posts and videos across multiple social media platforms including, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok”.
In the lawsuit, Mattel said Barbie has created dolls “inspired by Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, and Eleanor Roosevelt, among other role models,” which, like the aim of Rap Snacks, were created to inspire “the limitless potential in generations of children through play” and encouraging “people of all ages and background to talk about and share their Barbie experiences.
“Barbie has also become a growing franchise and popular culture phenomenon outside of the toy aisle, from an established array of Barbie-branded consumer products to a broad range of popular animated television series and specials, and more recent initiatives like the upcoming live-action Barbie theatrical film, all produced or licensed and supported by Mattel.”
According to the lawsuit, “The association is so evident that upon seeing the packaging, representatives for Defendant's celebrity partner queried whether Rap Snacks had obtained permission from Mattel. Indeed, Rap Snacks never requested or received any such permission.
“Rap Snacks made the deliberate and calculated choice to launch a new product line using Mattel's famous Barbie trademark. “That choice, made without any prior notice to Mattel, was unlawful.”
Mattel said Rap Snacks refused to stop using the Barbie’s trademarked name and logo or “correct the misimpressions it foisted on the public” and that the lawsuit was the ‘last resort’.
The complainant said Lindsay attempted to trademark ‘Barbie-Que’ in April 2022, but put the skids on over a potential trademark infringement.
However, Mattel alleges Rap Snacks persisted and assets the logo for the potato chips is ‘confusingly similar’ to the current Barbie logo and is ‘virtually identical’ to a previous one. It further asserts the “false association is enhanced even further by the defendant’s use of imagery and colours that are associated with the Barbie brand.
“As a result, Mattel has been forced to bring this lawsuit to defend its rights to the Barbie brand because defendant Rap Snacks impermissibly traded off, and continues to trade off, the value and goodwill of Mattel's famous trademark.”
The El Segundo, California-headquartered toy maker – represented by Lee Brenner and Meaghan Kent of Venable LLP – is seeking punitive damages, court fees, any profits generated from the product and an order blocking Rap Snacks from using the brand name.
Rapp Snacks and Mattel had not responded to a request for comment before publication.
The case is Mattel Inc v. Rap Snacks Inc, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 2:22-cv-05702.