Kellogg Co. v. Nat'l Biscuit Co.

305 U.S. 111, 59 S. Ct. 109 (1938)

 

RULE:

Sharing in the goodwill of an article unprotected by patent or trade-mark is the exercise of a right possessed by all--and in the free exercise of which the consuming public is deeply interested.

FACTS:

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. It does however concede that it does not have the exclusive right to make shredded wheat.

ISSUE:

Can the plaintiff appropriate the use of the words “shredded wheat” to itself?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

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.

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