Saputo challenges Kraft over ‘unauthorised’ use of ‘Toppers’ cheese trademark


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Saputo challenges Kraft over ‘unauthorised’ use of ‘Toppers’ trademark
Saputo Cheese USA – the US subsidiary of Canadian dairy giant Saputo – has filed a lawsuit against Kraft Foods alleging trademark infringement, competition law violation, and false advertising over its “unauthorised” use of the term ‘Toppers’ to market a range of cheese products.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed at the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois last week, Kraft and its subsidiary, Kraft Foods Group Brands, began using the term ‘Toppers’ to market its Velveeta brand cheese products in late 2012 “despite actual knowledge of Saputo’s prior use of, and exclusive rights in, the TOPPERS mark.”

Saputo has advertised, marketed and sold its TOPPERS brand cheese products in the US since 1996. Since that time, Saputo claims the brand has “achieved consumer recognition and acceptance.”

According to the lawsuit, Kraft’s adoption and continued use of the term ‘Toppers’ infringes its trademark, violates unfair competition laws, equates to false advertising, and violates the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act under Illinois Law.

Among a range of corrective remedies, Saputo is seeking “compensation for any and all damages, injury, or harm incurred.”

Cause confusion, deceive consumers

“Long before Defendants began use of the identical TOPPERS mark, Saputo’s substantial use and advertising of the TOPPERS mark throughout the United States resulted in the TOPPERS mark being associated exclusively with Saputo and Saputo’s high quality products,”​ said the lawsuit.  

According to Saputo, Kraft’s adoption of the term ‘Toppers’ is likely to cause confusion amongst consumers and cause “irreparable”​ damage to its reputation if nothing changes. 

“Defendants’ use of the TOPPERS mark in connection with cheese products is likely to cause confusion or mistake or to deceive consumers into think that the cheese product advertised and sold by Defendants using the TOPPERS mark are authorised by, or affiliated, connected, or otherwise, associated with, Saputo,” ​said the court-filed document.

Kraft adopted the term 'Toppers' for its Velveeta cheese products in late-2012.

“If Defendants are permitted to continue promoting, marketing, advertising, distributing, and selling cheese products using the TOPPERS mark, Saputo will suffer irreparable injury to its goodwill and reputation, for which Saputo has no adequate remedy at law.”

Saputo Cheese USA's TOPPERS brand cheese has been available in the US since 1996, according to the lawsuit.

Kraft “refused” to cease-and-desist  

Saputo initially issued Kraft Foods with a cease-and-desist letter in May 2013 “upon learning”​ of its use of the term ‘Toppers’.

It demanded that Kraft “immediately cease all use, including, but not limited to, on packaging and in any advertising and promotional materials, of the TOPPERS mark or any term that is confusingly similar thereto.”

According to Saputo, the lawsuit was filed only after Kraft “refused to cease and desist from their use of the TOPPERS mark.” approached Kraft Foods in regards to the allegations made by Saputo, but the company refused the opportunity to comment.

"Unfortunately, we do not comment on pending litigation," ​said a spokesperson for the company.

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