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Who owns How (and does it Matter)? Chobani on trademark lawsuit: ‘This is all a bit silly’

By Elaine Watson+

07-Jun-2014
Last updated on 07-Jun-2014 at 04:09 GMT

Chobani chief marketing and brand officer Peter McGuiness says he is
Chobani chief marketing and brand officer Peter McGuiness says he is "baffled" by the trademark infringement lawsuit filed by author Dov Seidman

Becoming a target of opportunistic lawsuits is the price you pay for being successful, says Chobani’s marketing boss, who says he is “baffled” by a complaint filed by Dov Seidman accusing the yogurt firm of infringing his trademarks with its ‘How Matters’ campaign.

Chobani chief marketing and brand officer Peter McGuinness was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after Seidman filed a lawsuit (click HERE ) alleging that Chobani and ad agency Droga5 had infringed his trademarks and service marks and violated the Lanham Act (unfair competition).

The bigger and more successful you are, the more likely you are to become a target

McGuinness added: “We’re a big company now and people like to sue big companies. Leadership has its burdens and the bigger and more successful you are, the more likely you are to become a target.

“Everyone wants their day in the sun. I just don’t think this is best way to go about it. I’m a bit baffled by it all; if you can own ‘How’, you can own ‘The’.

"It is all a bit silly. It just seems a bit desperate to me.”

We have no plans to change our platform

Hailed by Fortune Magazine as the "hottest advisor on the corporate virtue circuit", Seidman wrote the bestselling book HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything, and says he owns federal trademark registrations for the word and mark ‘HOW’ and has developed common law rights in HOW and other HOW-based marks “over a period of years”.

Peter McGuinness: "Mr Seidman’s allegations are baseless, desperate and have no merit."

But he does not own the trademark ‘How Matters’, claimed McGuinness, adding: “And our campaign is not ‘How’, but ‘How Matters’. The notion of ‘How’ is frequently used by many brands and is broadly used in marketing and in life, so I don’t know why he is picking us out. We have no plans to change our platform.”

While Chobani had sent a tweet just prior to the launch of its campaign thanking Seidman for “inspiring the world to care about ‘how’”, adding, “Can you help inspire the food industry, too?”, this was hardly a ‘smoking gun’, claimed McGuinness.

“We sent out hundreds of tweets about people that care about how they do things. There are lots of ‘what’ brands, but ‘how’ is more interesting to explore.”

No likelihood of confusion: We make yogurt, he’s an author

The burden of proof in trademark infringement cases is on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant’s use of a disputed trademark has created the likelihood-of-confusion about the origin of the goods or services in question.

In his complaint, for example, Seidman alleges that consumers might erroneously assume he is affiliated with Chobani or had licensed, sponsored, or endorsed Chobani’s products.

But this “doesn’t add up”, said McGuinness, who pointed out that Chobani is a yogurt company and its campaign specifically relates to how it makes its yogurts - with all-natural ingredients, sustainable sourcing policies and production techniques ('A cup of yogurt won’t change the world, but how we make it might').

Dov Seidman is the author of the bestselling book: HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything

Seidman is an author and consultant, not a rival consumer products company, he said. “We make yogurt. This campaign is about making quality, wholesome Greek yogurt using only natural ingredients. Does he (Seidman) run Dannon or Fage?”

Seidman, who is represented by law firm Haynes and Boone LLP, wants an injunction to stop Chobani running the How Matters campaign and is also seeking unspecified damages.

Click HERE to read more about the complaint, which was filed in federal court in New York on Wednesday June 4.

Click HERE to read more about Dov Seidman.

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