E-cigarette names encroaching on wholesome trademarks

One of the most valuable assets companies have are their brands. It can be difficult to put a dollar value on a brand itself, but when copyright violations or other intellectual property issues crop up, the potential damage to a company can be incalculable. Not only that, but a company that has no right to use a name or trademark might be profiting from it.

This is the scenario that several companies, including Tootsie Roll Industries, General Mills and the Girl Scouts of the United States of America have found themselves in. Some of their trademarks have been used by makers of flavored nicotine used electronic cigarettes -- something that these companies obviously want to distance themselves from.

The electronic cigarette industry is so new that it is scarcely regulated in this country. The devices, which create vapor instead of smoke, have been touted as a less-dangerous alternative to traditional cigarettes. While the new devices are on the radar of the Food and Drug Administration, so far the group has only proposed regulating them.

For regular cigarettes, flavors that could appeal to children, such as candy or fruit flavors, are not permitted, but the same doesn't apply to e-cigarettes -- at least not yet. The makers of the flavored liquid nicotine used in the devices have come up with all sorts of flavors, many of which might violate the trademarks of established companies. The Girl Scouts, for example, are moving to protect their ownership of the term Thin Mints -- and keep it as the name of their popular cookies, rather than a version that can be used for e-cigarettes.

Source: Associated Press, "Thin Mint, other brands want trademark names kept off e-cigarettes," Michael Felberbaum, May 25, 2014

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