EU Rejects Spam Maker's Trademark Bid

Hormel Foods loses bid to trademark the word known more commonly through frequent usage as "unsolicited e-mails."

The producer of the canned pork product Spam has lost a bid to claim the word as a trademark for unsolicited e-mails. EU trademark officials rejected Hormel Foods Corp.'s appeal, dealing the company another setback in its struggle to prevent software companies from using the word "spam" in their products, a practice it argued was diluting its brand name.

The European Office of Trade Marks and Designs, noting that the vast majority of the hits yielded by a Google search for the word made no reference to the food, said that "the most evident meaning of the term SPAM for the consumers ... will certainly be unsolicited, usually commercial e-mail, rather than a designation for canned spicy ham."

The word Spam -- short for "Spiced Ham" -- was coined by Hormel in 1937 as part of a marketing campaign so successful the word became virtually synonymous with canned meat.

Its use to describe unwanted electronic communication is a reference to the popular 1970 Monty Python's Flying Circus comedy sketch in which Vikings in a diner repeatedly drown out conversation with the chant "Spam! Spam! Spam!"

While Hormel has embraced the pop culture reference -- even helping to market "Spamalot," the musical comedy based on Monty Python's work -- it has taken less kindly to attempts by businesses to incorporate the word into their product names. The company has been embroiled in a string of trademark disputes over the matter in the United States and elsewhere, fighting product names such as SpamBop, Spam Arrest, and Spam Cube.

"We do not object to use of this slang term to describe (unsolicited commercial e-mail)," the company said on its Web site, "although we do object to the use of the word 'spam' as a trademark and to the use of our product image in association with that term."

"Ultimately, we are trying to avoid the day when the consuming public asks, 'Why would Hormel Foods name its product after junk e-mail?'"

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