Global petcare and food company Mars, Incorporated and Mars Petcare US, Inc. filed a complaint on Tuesday in the Eastern District of Virginia claiming that Simmons Pet Food, Inc. copied their trade dress in its new dog food branding. The filing accused the defendant of “direct and contributory trade dress infringement,” false designation of origin, and unfair competition under the Lanham Act.
Mars sells Pedigree brand canned dog food, and the company claimed it invested “many millions of dollars” advertising the trade dress. The defendant sells Signature brand dog food. The plaintiff claimed that “rather than invest the time, money, and resources to create its own distinctive trade dress, (the) defendant simply helped itself to Mars’s famous trade dress.”
Both pet food containers feature the color yellow, with a varying accent color depending on the flavor of food. Each company displays orange for chicken, teal for chicken and rice, and brown for a beef, bacon, and cheese variant. They also each have a dog’s head with its tongue sticking out placed behind and to the right of a yellow bowl containing the dog food inside the can. The complaint noted that each also has a white circular halo.
The two products are sometimes sold side by side. The plaintiff claimed the mimicked branding will lead to confusion among consumers and could harm Mars’ reputation and cause Mars “irreparable injury.” The complaint said the defendant’s infringing trade dress could deceive consumers into thinking the products are sold by Mars or are associated with Pedigree.
The complaint stated that Pedigree is the best-selling brand for dog food in the United States. It is sold in pet stores, online, and in major grocery stores. The company said its Pedigree trade dress is “inherently distinctive because it has an overall visual impression that is unique and unusual in the field of canned dog food.”
Mars asked the court to enter a permanent injunction stopping the defendant from using the trade dress and order them to deliver any of the advertisements for destruction. Mars is represented by Snell & Wilmer L.L. P.