Remember when Marvin Gaye’s family sued Robin Thicke because the bass line in “Blurred Lines” went “dum dum dum” a little too similarly to the way the bass line in “Got to Give It Up” went “dum dum dum”? It’s kind of like that, except instead of bass lines, it’s sandwich cookies, and instead of a deceased musician’s family suing the dad from Growing Pains’ kid, it’s two multi-billion dollar corporations (when you take into account Pepperidge Farm’s parent company, Campbell Soup Company, and Trader Joe’s parent company, Aldi Nord) butting heads.
The cookies in question are Pepperidge Farm’s oval-shaped, chocolate-filled Milanos and Trader Joe’s slightly less oval-shaped, chocolate-filled Crispy Cookies. “Trader Joe’s has willfully sought to trade on Pepperidge Farm’s reputation and the reputation of the Milano cookies,” the industrial-grade cookie company cites in the complaint, which seeks an injunction against Trader Joe’s on top of an undisclosed sum for punitive damages. “The acts of Trader Joe’s have been malicious and calculated to injure Pepperidge Farm.” You have to wonder many times the words “malicious” and “cookie” have appeared in the same lawsuit.
Do the two cookies look similar? Sure they do. In fact, most cookies look similar: Put a Pepperidge Farm Montauk in a bowl of Mrs. Field’s and you’d never know the difference. Most of these trademark lawsuits in the food industry tend to boil down to the nomenclature rather than the specifics of the recipe because it’s so difficult to prove that a method of cooking—or, in this case, the shape of a cookie—is truly proprietary.
It’s the reason Dominique Ansel can’t bust down the door of every L.A. donut shop selling “doughssants” or “onuts” or any other cronut knockoff; as long as the name’s different, they’re pretty much in the legal clear. But then again, “Blurred Lines” really didn’t sound all that similar to “Got to Give it Up,” and the Gaye estate was awarded $7.3 million, so who knows what will happen.
Trader Joe’s has not commented on the pending litigation.