Judge tosses trademark lawsuit against Tyson

by Erica Shaffer
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Park's Finest hot dogs, Tyson Foods
Parks L.L.C. took Tyson and Hillshire to court over use of “Park’s Finest.”

PHILADELPHIA — A federal appeals court judge rejected a trademark infringement and false advertising lawsuit that accused Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods, Inc. and The Hillshire Brands Co. of appropriating a brand owned by Parks L.L.C., the maker of Parks’ sausages by using “Park’s Finest” on Ball Park’s brand of premium hot dogs.

Parks L.L.C., owned by former National Football League stars Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell, claimed in the lawsuit that Tyson and Hillshire knew about the Parks brand before Ball Park’s launch of Park’s Finest in 2014.

But Judge Joseph Leeson Jr. ruled that “no reasonable factfinder could find in Parks’ favor from the evidence the parties have presented.”

Judge Joseph Leeson Jr.
Judge Joseph Leeson Jr.

“Even a consumer who is familiar with the ‘Parks’ brand would not inevitably come away with the impression that the ‘Park’s’ in ‘Park’s Finest’ was a reference to Parks rather than to Defendants’ ‘Ball Park’ brand, given that the ‘Ball Park’ name is directly integrated into both the Park’s Finest wordmark and the script of the advertisements,” Mr. Leeson wrote in his opinion.

“We understand the importance of intellectual property and take steps to protect our own,” Worth Sparkman, a spokesman for Tyson Foods, said in an emailed statement. “However, we did not infringe on any rights of the plaintiff or engage in false advertising. We’re pleased that after reviewing evidence and hearing arguments that the judge agreed and has granted our motion for summary judgment.”

Parks L.L.C. began as the HG Parks Sausage Co., which was founded in 1950 by Henry G. Parks in Baltimore. The company later became famous as the first black-owned corporation to be listed on an American stock exchange — the New York Stock Exchange 1969.

The company began to decline after Mr. Parks died and eventually fell into bankruptcy in 1995. Mr. Harris and Mr. Mitchell would later acquire the company. The two businessmen entered into a license agreement with Dietz & Watson, and the company is now based in Pittsburgh.
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