In the mainstream consumer packaged goods industry, brand names are golden: carefully crafted, widely communicated and zealously protected. The worth of an established brand name can be incalculable. But industry giant Mars Wrigley is putting an estimate on Skittles, asking for millions of dollars in lawsuits against defendants who have blatantly infringed on their trademarks.
Much of this bad behavior stems from the counterculture years where strains were illegally sold and growers or edibles makers would freely rip off established brand names to give themselves a wacky image or a flavor hint — think “Skywalker” or “Girl Scout Cookies”. Today, with legalization and the global reach of social media, the minute a home grower infringes on a major company’s brand name, it’s going to be quickly noticed by people who once upon a time could have been unaware — namely the company’s lawyers and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
California company Terphoga created what is an award-winning strain with a sweet-tropical profile — but chose to name it “Zkittlez.” Earlier this month, Mars Wrigley sued for trademark infringement, false designation of origin, unfair competition, trademark dilution and even cybersquatting. On top of the name, Terphoga also copied Mars Wrigley’s registered “Taste the Rainbow” slogan and packaging design.
Terphoga’s “defense” as posted on Instagram? “We have never done any candy/edible collab.” That, of course, means nothing when a company uses an existing brand name associated with a children’s candy product to identify drugs. As Mars Wrigley states, “Rather than create its own brand architecture, Terphoga simply helped itself to Wrigley’s famous SKITTLES Marks … at the expense of the public which believes that Wrigley approves the ZKITTLEZ goods being peddled by Terphoga.”
On top of this suit, Mars Wrigley has also sued a group of online retailers selling cannabis‑infused gummies in packaging that is a blatant knockoff of their Skittles and Starburst brand designs — marketed as “Medicated Skittles” and “Starburst Gummies.” These unlicensed products, made in China, are also distributed at pop-up “seshes” — and the company rightly says, “We are deeply disturbed to see our trademarked brands being used illegally to sell THC-infused products.”
The moral? Growers and distributors must create their own non-infringing brand names — something tech companies do all the time. There’s no longer any place to hide, as a social media post from just one user is all it takes for the affected company to call out the hounds.