Excruciatingly Dumb Idea Dept.: Kellogg Co. Threatens to Sue Mayan Group for Use of Toucan in Logo

August 22, 2011; Source: Detroit News | The Maya Archaeology Initiative (MAI), a cultural-defense project associated with the California-based World Free Press Institute, is being threatened with legal action by Kellogg Co. for using a toucan as part of its logo. Kellogg says that the image is too close to the Toucan Sam image used on its Froot Loops cereal boxes.

Froot Loops logo       MAI logo

In a letter to MAI’s attorney, Kellogg also expressed concern that the initiative’s logo uses Mayan imagery, “given that our character is frequently depicted in that setting.” The fact that that setting is, of course, the home of actual people and a culture and the Toucan in question does not seem to be of any importance to Kellogg, which apparently believes that they have appropriated the bird for all eternity. 

In Kellogg’s defense, the law requires a trademark owner to vigorously police any possible infringement, lest it be deemed to have “abandoned” the mark. But lawyers more acquainted with the real world understand that there is a fine line between trademark policing and bullying. I’m not sure that there is much to be said here that might more clearly illuminate the appalling tone-deafness of the situation. One might wonder if there are no shared values between Kellogg Co. and the Kellogg Foundation, which is now devoting much of its grantmaking to anti-racism work.

As MAI’s Francisco Estrada Belli told the Detroit News, “This is a bit like the Washington Redskins claiming trademark infringement against the National Congress of American Indians.”

What say you, NPQ readers: Could these images be mistaken for one another?—Ruth McCambridge