We recently discussed an absurd effort to trademark a hashtag. Now, the Campbell Soup Company has trademarked the word “chunky” in an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Campbell is using pop culture references (including Saturday Night Live skits and Simpson episodes) to support its claim over this common term. It is just another example of the utter lunacy that Congress has created in our copyright and trademark laws.
In fairness to the company, the registration addressed the use of the term in relation to soups alone. Moreover, the company argued that it was only barring other soup manufacturers from using “Chunky” as a brand/trademark.
We have been discussing a disturbing trend in copyright and trademark claims over things occurring in public or common phrases or terms. (For a prior column, click here). We have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property (here and here and here and here and here and hereand here and here and here and here and here). This included a New York artist claiming that he holds the trademark to symbol π. Even the Trump legal team sought to trademark “Keep America Great.” Campbell insists that it has spent over a billion dollars on advertising, including clunky references that have been parodied. With more than $13 billion worth of Chunky soup sold since 1988, the company insists that it has an indelible association with the term.
Of course, most of us have also gotten fairly used to the term even outside of soup references. George Carson once explored the different synonyms in his discussion of “fat”:
“I use the word ‘fat’. I use that word because that’s what people are: they’re fat. They’re not bulky; they’re not large, chunky, hefty or plump. And they’re not big-boned. Dinosaurs were big-boned. These people are not overweight: this term somehow implies there is some correct weight… There is no correct weight. Heavy is also a misleading term. An aircraft carrier is heavy; it’s not fat. Only people are fat, and that’s what fat people are! They’re fat!”
Not only would this word belong to Campbell but other soup makers would be denied the use of the word.
The effort by Campbell raises an ironic twist on Andy Warhol’s depiction of the Campbell soup can as so iconic as a form a pop art. Now companies like Campbell are claiming ownership of even words used to describe its iconic soups.