The Genericide of the Turkey Stick: Another Thanksgiving Trademark Tale

Turkey StickFor the past few years, the Trademark and Copyright Law Blog has marked Thanksgiving with a note about the history of turkey trademarks.  Last year, we discussed the ownership of GOBBLE GOBBLE, and before that we told you why you can’t buy BAKED TAM anymore. This year, our subject is the TURKEY STICK.

Hickory Farms was founded in 1951, and shortly thereafter it started selling “Beef Sticks,” a precooked sausage product. In 1969, it registered the BEEF STICK mark, and the product became a leading seller in its category.

But then turkey ruined everything. In 1991, Hickory Farms added a turkey stick to its repertoire, and in 1992 registered the HICKORY FARMS TURKEY STICK mark.  However, the company failed to file a declaration of use, and the registration was cancelled in 2001. In 2004, Hickory Farm filed a new application to register TURKEY STICK.

But by that time, many companies were using the word “stick” to identify meat-based products, including Snackmasters, which marketed both “Beef Stick” and “Turkey Stick” jerky products. Snackmasters smelled an opportunity and opposed the TURKEY STICK registration. The parties ended up in the Northern District of Illinois, with Hickory Farms alleging trademark infringement and Snackmaster asserting that “stick” was generic for processed meats in elongated form, and therefore that “Beef Stick” and “Turkey Stick” were too descriptive to act as source identifiers. Snackmasters’ motion for summary judgment demonstrated that by that time over one hundred companies were making use of “stick terminology” to identify meat products, including SLIM JIM Beef & Cheese Sticks, O’BRIEN’S Turkey Sticks, and even TEXAS A&M DEPARTMENT OF ANIMAL SCIENCE Beef Sticks.

The Court in Hickory Farms, Inc. v. Snackmasters, Inc., 500 F. Supp. 2d 789 (N.D. Ill. 2007) agreed with Snackmasters and granted summary judgment. The Court dismissed Hickory Farms’ argument that a consumer survey was necessary and, based on dictionary definitions and the evidence presented by Snackmasters, held that “beef stick” and “turkey stick” were generic terms.  The TTAB, citing the Court’s decision, subsequently sustained refusal of the TURKEY STICK registration and canceled the BEEF STICK mark.

Nearly eight years later, both companies appear to have abandoned their prior “stick terminology.” Hickory Farms sells its product under the less stick-like name, “Turkey Summer Sausage,” and Snackmasters has no “sticks” for sale on its website.

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