Spam maker sees trademark bid canned

Worried about confusion with its spicy ham, Hormel attempts to register "spam" as trademark for junk e-mail.

Hormel Foods, which owns the trademark for the spiced-ham food product Spam, has failed in its attempt to register "spam" as a European Union-wide trademark when used to designate unsolicited e-mails.

Hormel attempted to register spam as a trademark when used to refer to "services to avoid or suppress unsolicited e-mails" and the "creation and maintenance of computer software; technical consultancy, particularly in combination with network services; (and) providing of expertise, engineering services and technical consulting services (related to junk e-mail)."

Hormel argued in an appeal to the Office of Harmonisation for the Internal Market (OHIM), the EU trademark body, that the general public would not immediately recognize the use of the word spam as pertaining to junk e-mail but would instead associate it with "a kind of spicy ham" food product.

OHIM disagreed and dismissed the appeal. Products aimed at tackling the problem of spam were aimed at IT professionals who would not confuse junk e-mail with the meat product, it maintained. In addition, a Google search returned more hits for spam junk e-mail than for the canned meat, which satisfied OHIM that the word was also in use by the general public to refer to unsolicited mail.

"The most evident meaning of the term spam for the consumers of the services at issue will certainly be 'unsolicited, usually commercial, e-mail sent to a large number of addressees' rather than a designation for canned spicy ham," the OHIM ruling said.

Hormel has made several attempts to wrest the name from generic use, including an advertising campaign in 2004 and attempts to invalidate the Spambuster name in the U.K. High Court in 2005. That court case also failed.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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