Pringles- Legally Barred from Calling its Product “chips”

stacks of potato chips isolated on white

It seems like an easy thing to do: just talk about anything. You use the word ‘chips,’ so it must be a specific product, right? Not so fast, says Pringles. The company has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Potato Board of America, which is suing Pringles for trademark infringement on the grounds that “chips” is a generic term and cannot be protected by law.

Do you know what snack food was legally barred from calling its product “chips”?

Pringles has taken offense at the potato-chip association because it claims to have trademarked the term “chips” in 2001. The company argues that potato-chip is a generic term and therefore cannot be protected, according to

“The potato chip as we know it is a generic product, meaning invented or manufactured by a single producer for single use and lacking design elements that distinguish it from other types of chips,” said Martin Gansberg, an intellectual property attorney with Bowditch & Dewey in Chicago. “This is different from combination or composite marks that can be protected under federal law.

Here some points are discussed-

1. Potato is not a trademark word and cannot be protected as such. 

Potato chip is a generic term, so it cannot be protected under law. The reason for this is that potato is not a distinguishing characteristic of potato-chip, which again is a generic term. 

Hence there are varieties of potato chips manufactured with variations of flavors and texture, but all of them contain potato in common basic ingredients. That’s why potato chips have no trademark boundary, it becomes one thing and the name becomes another thing again.

2. “Chips” signifies a generic name and cannot be trademarked.

Pringles may have trademarked the term chips, but it is not the same with consumers’ mind. According to the USPTO, the term Pringles is not a fixed capital; it is only an arbitrary word in relation to a primary characteristic of its goods which are prunes. 

The reasonable public who doesn’t know what kinds of chips are available in the market and don’t have any idea about Pringles will assume that Pringles is a whole product line of chips. However, Pringles itself has no trademark on this name.

3. Lawsuits are not a good source of generating income.

The demand for potato chips is growing and there are many players in the field, so it is hard to add value to customers by branding. People’s demands on potato chips are decreasing due to their appearance in their own place which can make people think about second-best choices for their consumption needs, namely easy-to-make fried foods such as pizza, Chinese food and burgers, etc. 

A bad economy has deeply affected the traditional potato chip sales and resulted in shortage of potato crops, which are now being replaced by alternative vegetable oils that are more affordable to consumers. These kinds of customers are mostly in store. The company has to sell potato chips to customers, but it could get more profit by selling other vegetables than potatoes.

The potato-chip association has decided not to comment on the lawsuit and is interested in the outcome of this case. Moreover, Pringles is a part of PepsiCo, which is also a potato chip manufacturer. 

If Pringles wins the lawsuit, it will be forced to stop its business and PepsiCo would have to find an alternative way to make money out of potatoes. The potato-chip association believes this will be hurting their sales thereby hurting both players involved in this market in different ways.

4. The potato-chip association is not a common business organization.

“The potato-chip association” is just a trademark association. There are various associations for this market and it has no common threats or common benefits for both Pringles and potato-chip association members. 

The main objective behind forming such an association is to offer comprehensive services to its members in order to help them in their business activities which include technical and legal support as well as marketing know-how, according to USPTO. 

Thus, even though Pringles is listed on the registry of the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) but potato chip association does not appear on the registry.

5. Potato chips have been around since ancient times.

If Pringles has trademarked “chips” as a potato-chip product, then it is inaccurate to claim it is a new invention. The word ‘chip’ for any kind of snack could be traced back in history over 2000 years. 

The word ‘chip’ has been used in England since 1654. It was first used to refer to fried potatoes, but was later developed into a more general term that applies to any type of fried or baked food.


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