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

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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

  • Jennie

    O for crying out loud. Cartoonish Toucan Sam and the bird in the MAI logo are barely birds of a feather. Move along, Kellogg’s, and take your Loopy bird with you.

  • Clay Haswell

    Does being big mean you can trademark a bird?

  • David Weisberger

    Well, both birds do face right, and the placement of the pyramid suspiciously echoes the adidas logo on the cereal box.

  • John Navarro

    This is complicated but it should not have to be. The images are not alike and the trademark indicia by Kellogg is an exaggeration of the real thing. A response indicating the differences should suffice, Kellogg having established it’s concern about possible trademark infringement. Since the Kellogg cereal product in question is an extruded foodstuff, prepared under extreme pressure and high heat and of a slurry of corn meal and HF corn sugars it has little nutritional value and maybe should be boycotted…on many levels.

  • Deb W.

    Does Kellogg expect MAI to start advertising during Saturday morning cartoons and go after the kiddie cereal-eating tourist market? Or does Kellogg’s trademark attorney need a vacation…among Mayan ruins?

  • Zack

    I wonder if the Kellogg bird is symbolic of bird brainlessness.

  • ELguy

    Too many lawyers with not enough to do. “An idle hand is the Devil’s playground.”

  • Markito

    OR … recognizing the awesome opportunity here for two toucans to forge a friendship, Kellogg Co. could become a supporter of MAI, and produce a spot or even a short featuring both toucans as pals for use by MAI in its education and fundraising activities, and put the MAI story on its cereal boxes with a 5% net proceeds donation pledge and a way for kids to learn more about MAI and other cultural organizations closer to where they live.

    This is a cakewalk good PR move for Kellogg and I hope they will consider it. It would go a long way in erasing the corporate tool impression their legal action makes.

  • Tony

    My great grandfather wants to sue Kellogs. They named their logo mascot Tony the Tiger. That was my grandfather’s name first.

  • AndrewAZ

    Is it possible for MAI to counter-sue Kellogg for stupidity?