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Where a term is generic, the original maker of the product acquires no exclusive right to use it.
Both parties were cereal manufacturers who manufactured and sold shredded wheat biscuits in pillow-shaped form. Plaintiff alleged that it had exclusive rights to the trade name "shredded wheat," as well as the pillow-shaped form of the biscuits. Plaintiff also alleged that defendant engaged in unfair competition by not distinguishing its product from plaintiff's. The district court dismissed the complaint, The court of appeals reversed, issuing an injunction enjoining the defendant from using the trade name "shredded wheat" and producing cereal in pillow-shaped form. Defendant appealed.
Did the plaintiff have the exclusive right to the trade name “Shredded Wheat” and the exclusive right to make shredded wheat biscuits pillow-shaped?
On certiorari review, the United States Supreme Court reviewed the record and concluded that plaintiff did not have the exclusive right to the trade name "shredded wheat," because it was a generic term that was descriptive of the biscuits. Because the original maker of the product acquired no exclusive right to the words, defendant had a right to use the term. Plaintiff did not have the exclusive right to sell shredded wheat in the form of a pillow-shaped biscuit, the form in which the product was made under the basic patent. When the design patent expired, the form and the name was dedicated to the public domain. Finally, defendant did not unfairly compete with plaintiff, as it clearly distinguished its product from plaintiff's through its use of color, size, and form in labeling. Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals.