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”.
That likelihood of reverse confusion… would be devastating
In a complaint filed in New York on Wednesday, Seidman and his company LRN Corporation accuse Chobani and ad agency Droga5 of infringing his trademarks and service marks and violating the Lanham Act (unfair competition) with its ‘How Matters’ campaign.
Chobani was “fully aware of Plaintiffs’ HOW marks and their connotation” prior to the January 30 launch of its campaign, which could lead consumers to believe that he was in some way affiliated with Chobani or had licensed, sponsored, or endorsed Chobani’s products, alleges Seidman.
Consumers might also believe he is infringing Chobani marks and misappropriating its messages in his articles, newsletters, training materials and promotional materials, Seidman claims.
“That likelihood of reverse confusion… would be devastating to Plaintiffs’ hard-earned reputations for ethical behavior.”
Chobani: Mr Seidman’s allegations are baseless and without merit
However, Chobani chief marketing and brand officer Peter McGuinness described the lawsuit as "desperate" and "baseless".
He added: “We are disappointed that Dov Seidman would choose to challenge Chobani's trademarked phrase 'How Matters'. Mr Seidman’s allegations are baseless, desperate and have no merit.
"Chobani chose 'How Matters' as its platform because it represents what Chobani has always stood for, making quality, wholesome Greek yogurt using only natural ingredients.”
Chobani explicitly acknowledged debt to Seidman in tweet sent day before 'How Matters' campaign was launched
According to the complaint, Chobani explicitly acknowledged its debt to Seidman in a tweet dated Jan 29 (just prior to the launch of the How Matters campaign) thanking him for “inspiring the world to care about ‘how’”, adding, “Can you help inspire the food industry, too?”
After the campaign was launched on January 30, adds the complaint, Seidman contacted Chobani and Droga5 to raise his concerns and received an email on February 8 from Droga5 vice chairman Andrew Essex claiming that any similarities between the Chobani campaign and Seidman’s work were “purely coincidental”.
However, in a March 11 meeting, Droga5 executives allegedly told him that his book had been an inspiration for the Chobani campaign, says Seidman, who is represented by law firm Haynes and Boone LLP.
He wants an injunction to stop Chobani running the How Matters campaign and is also seeking damages.
How Matters focuses on Chobani's all-natural ingredients, sourcing policies and production techniques: ‘A cup of yogurt won’t change the world, but how we make it might.’