Trademark annals

From Victor Steinbok, a link to this story from KHON-TV (in Honolulu HI) on the 10th: “Noh Foods sued over ‘Huli-Huli’ trademark infringement” by Manolo Morales, beginning:

A mainland company that makes Huli-Huli sauce has sued a local company that makes Hula-Huli sauce.

Huli-huli may be a familiar term in Hawaii, but when it comes down to it, mainland-based Pacific Poultry Company owns the rights to it. So other companies would need permission to use it.

Legal details to follow. But first, about those sauces.

Huli-huli (or Huli-Huli or Huli Huli) sauce is one of the components of Huli Huli chicken. There are a number of recipes on the net, so you can make the dish (including the sauce) at home — or, of course, buy Pacific Poultry’s in a bottle.

Bottles:

(#1)

(#2)

(Note the chicken doing the hula in #2.)

A (fairly complex) recipe for “Huli Huli Chicken on the grill” from Guy Fieri is here; the sauce component:

1 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger

For the Huli Huli sauce: In a small saucepot over medium-low heat, combine the pineapple juice, ketchup, soy sauce and sherry vinegar. Once the liquid simmers, whisk in the brown sugar and ginger. Continue to simmer until the liquid begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand (or prepare ahead and refrigerate until ready for use).

Once ready for use, reserve about a cup to serve.

The first legal issue. Fieri’s recipe is for something called Huli Huli Sauce. But that name was registered by Pacific Poultry in 1967 (sensibly, to protect the company from other people trying to sell a sauce under that name), so strictly speaking, Fieri can’t use that name for his stuff; he could label the recipe Fieri’s Honolulu Barbecue Sauce, or whatever, but Huli Huli Sauce legally means the stuff in bottles from Pacific Poultry. I suspect that Pacific Poultry doesn’t care enough about this issue to pursue recipe sites on the net, but they could, if they wanted to, enjoin these sites from using that name.

The really big legal issue. Continuing the KRON-TV story:

Noh Foods came out with the Hula-Huli sauce in March knowing that Huli-Huli was already a registered trademark. So the company was surprised when Noh Foods was sued by Pacific Poultry for trademark infringement.

“Hula-Huli is not Huli-Huli, therefore we thought and we registered it with the state of Hawaii and it was accepted,” said Noh Foods president Raymond Noh.

Pacific Poultry, which is run by a family from Hawaii, says it registered the term in 1967 and has every right to protect it.

“They’re still using ‘Huli’ and so if they were making butter or referring to something other than a sauce then they might have a case,” Brent Hancock, vice president, Pacific Poultry Company, told KHON2 by phone from Arizona.

Noh argued that “hula” and “huli” are two very different Hawaiian words. Hula is a dance and huli means to turn.

“I personally feel offended being a local boy and I’m sure knowing the Hawaiian community being that hula and huli are entirely two different words,” he said.

But still a judge ruled in favor of Pacific Poultry and has ordered Noh Foods to change the name of its sauce.

It’s hard to believe Noh Foods could be this (unintentionally) dense. The issue is whether names are confusible in practice: similar names for similar products. And that criterion seems to be amply satisfied in this case.

I haven’t experienced either sauce, and they both seem to be on more on the sweet side than I usually enjoy. In any case, Noh’s sauce advertises (or advertised) itself as a marinade for chicken, pork, beef, or fish, while the Pacific Poultry item specifies chicken, but no doubt it would have wider uses.

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