San Diego - In a David vs. Goliath trademark dispute, Princeton Vanguard, the manufacturer and marketer of the Pretzel Crisps brand flattened pretzel snacks, is having its trademark challenged by snack-food giant Frito-Lay. The Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay is arguing to the United States Patent and Trademark Office that the "Pretzel Crisps" trademark is too generic to hold a trademark registration.
What began as a small family-owned business making funnel cakes for state fairs, Princeton Vanguard had its first national hit with its New York Style Bagel Chips, which are bagged, sliced, toasted bagel pieces. In 2004, armed with a United States patent for a flat pretzel cracker, Princeton Vanguard launched its Pretzel Crisps brand. The brand is available in a variety of flavors and can be found at grocery retailers nationwide.
According to a market research company in Chicago, Pretzel Crisps are the sixth-most popular snack food in the snack market. Unable to successfully market its own version of flattened, crispy pretzels through its Rold Gold Pretzel brand, Frito-Lay has now moved on to challenge the "Pretzel Crisps" trademark registration.
Princeton Vanguard will likely have some difficulties defending its descriptive trademark. With trademarks rated according to how distinctive they are, "Pretzel Crisps" may be considered to literal and descriptive for the crisp, flattened pretzels it represents. Fanciful or inherently distinctive and arbitrary trademarks have the greatest chances of sustaining a trademark registration because they carry no particular connection with their products.
Descriptive trademarks are valuable to companies because they are useful at demonstrating to consumers what they are actually buying. Descriptive trademarks also tend to rank higher in Internet searches for products in their categories. The problem with these types of trademarks however, is that in order to sustain a registration, the owner often must show that it has created "secondary meaning" in the marketplace. Consumers must be able to associate it with the source of goods, and not only the product class.
Even if its "Pretzel Crisps" trademark is refused by the USPTO, Princeton Vanguard may still continue to use the trademark. If the trademark eventully garners enough recognition as a brand, Princeton Vanguard could then re-apply for the trademark.