When you mess with the proverbial bull, you’re going to get the proverbial horns.
And that’s exactly what a suburban Chicago company got when Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. slapped it with a federal trademark infringement lawsuit last week.
In a 19-page suit filed in U.S. District Court, the Chicago-based confectionery giant alleged Chi-Town Vapers, based in the west suburb of Bensenville, “misappropriated” Wrigley’s well-established trademarks by labeling a few of the flavored liquids it sells for electronic cigarettes with similar names.
The lawsuit says Chi-Town Vapers marketed the liquid — which contains nicotine and is inhaled as a vapor through an e-cigarette device — under names such as Doublemint, Juicy Fruit and Skittles — all Wrigley brands. However, they weren’t the only recognizable names seen on Chi-Town Vapers’ website. There were other flavors under names such as Kahlua, Hawaiian Punch, Mountain Dew, Red Bull and Nutella.
But using names Wrigley has developed over the last century is only part of the problem, Wrigley communications manager Michelle Green told the Chicago Tribune on Monday.
"The use of popular candy brands in the marketing, sales and promotion of e-cigarettes is ... grossly deceptive and irresponsible," she said. "We strongly condemn these actions, which are directly at odds with our anti-tobacco policy and our strict marketing standards."
The suit says Wrigley contacted Chi-Town Vapers in July 2014, asking the company to stop using the Juicy Fruit and Doublemint names and images of Wrigley’s products on its site. Chi-Town Vapers apparently did not respond, but removed the images.
But in November 2015, the suit alleges, Chi-Town Vapers resumed marketing and selling e-liquid under the names Double Mint and DBL Mint, copying the brand’s signature green background and arrow shape.
Wrigley reportedly contacted Chi-Town Vapers again, but the company did not respond. And, in January, the company apparently began marketing e-cigarette liquid with the name Joosy Fruit, also copying the brand’s “look and feel,” the lawsuit said.
Wrigley wants the court to order Chi-Town Vapers to stop selling e-cigarette liquid under Wrigley-trademarked names and pull products with those names from its website and retail store. The gum manufacturer is also seeking damages.
Online court records show Chi-Town Vapers has not yet responded to the suit, but the e-liquid flavors in question did not appear on the company’s site on Wednesday. A representative from Chi-Town Vapers answered a phone call Wednesday afternoon but declined to comment.
The first court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 24.
It’s not a surprise a heavyweight such as Wrigley would shut down any unsanctioned effort to ride off the popularity of its brands, especially when the product doesn’t necessarily jive with the wholesome image it has cultivated over the last 100 years.
While it’s understandable that the e-cigarette liquid company would want to offer flavors customers would recognize and likely enjoy, using another — local — company’s intellectual property isn’t the best way to go about it. And I haven’t even touched on the subject of using names children would know to market products not designed for them.
This case is a good reminder that it’s import to err on the sides of caution and originality when it comes to marketing products. Otherwise, such smoke-blowing may cause one to gag.