Saputo suing Kraft over 'Toppers' trademark

by Eric Schroeder
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NORTHFIELD, ILL. — Saputo Cheese USA Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Montreal-based Saputo, Inc., filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Kraft Foods Group, Inc. accusing the latter of “unauthorized” use of the “Toppers” cheese trademark.

In a June 7 filing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Saputo said Kraft has been promoting, marketing, advertising, distributing and/or selling a line of Velveeta brand cheese products throughout the United States under the mark “Toppers,” the same mark Saputo said it has used since 1996.

“The Toppers mark has achieved consumer recognition and acceptance as signifying a high quality brand of cheeses,” Saputo noted in the lawsuit. “Saputo’s rights in and to the Toppers mark are embodied, in part, in United States Trademark Registration No. 2,330,529, which covers ‘cheese.’”

Saputo said it has expended “sizeable resources” advertising and promoting its products featuring the Toppers mark, and as a direct result of its use and promotion has built the brand up to become a valuable asset of Saputo, “one which signifies to the consuming public a standard of high quality cheeses originating exclusively from Saputo.”

Saputo said Kraft has been using the Toppers mark since late 2012, and on May 23, 2013, Saputo issued a cease-and-desist letter to Kraft demanding the company immediately cease all use of the Toppers mark. A May 31 e-mail response from Kraft to Saputo submitted to the court as an exhibit indicated that Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft was “looking into this matter” and would provide “a substance response to your letter soon.” But as of the June 7 filing, Saputo said it had not received a response from Kraft, prompting the company to move ahead with the lawsuit.

“Defendants have misappropriated Saputo’s substantial property rights in the Toppers mark, as well as the substantial goodwill associated therewith,” Saputo said. “Unless restrained and enjoined by this court, such conduct will permit defendants to gain an unfair competitive advantage over Saputo.

“If defendants are permitted to continue promoting, marketing, advertising, distributing, and selling cheese products using the Toppers mark, Saputo will suffer irreparable injury to its goodwill and reputation, for which Saputo has no adequate remedy at law.”

Kraft Foods has declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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