Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pippi for Pops? Perhaps!

Dear Rich: I'm about to launch my very small handmade frozen fruit pop business. The name we all like best for the product is PippiPops. I've done an online search through USPTO and although "Pippi Longstocking" is a federally registered trademark, "Pippi" is listed as "dead" and abandoned. Can a name like "Pippi" be used as a trademark? Do I risk infringing although my business has nothing to do with the books or other goods? We're big fans of Pippi Longstocking and it's not just because we've finally finished the Steig Larsson trilogy and we're convinced that the resourceful Lisbeth Salander is Pippi's distant Swedish relative (Steig once characterized Lisbeth as a "gone wrong version" of Pippi). No, the Dear RIch Staff goes way back to Pippi-land. We recall a mild mid-80s addiction to Mr. Nilsson and the re-runs of the Euro TV series  (BTW, Pippi's first name is actually Pippilotta). 
Right, you had a question. The estate of Astrid Lindgren has registered the "Pippi Longstocking" trademark in the U.S. for audio-visual goods and printed matter as well as for games, educational services, and for clothing. A year before the latter registration issued, the trademarks for Pippi Wear (t-shirts) and Pippi Tails (hair bows) were registered by a California enterprise that doesn't appear to have any official connection with the Swedish author (yet  conjures up the Pippi character in their advertising -- P.S. Beware the Cyndi Lauper audio).
Pippi and food trademarks.Ennyway, we're not sure what's up with all that and we're hesitant to presume anything about the various uses. Most importantly, there is no indication that either the Swedish trademark owners or the California owners are planning to expand into food products and as far as we can tell, nobody is using Pippi as a federally registered trademark for food products. Therefore, we don't see any reason why you shouldn't proceed with the registration (though there is no such thing as a "guaranteed" registration). And yes, you are wise to avoid any references to the literary character in your advertising and packaging.  FTC Disclaimer -- You may find some helpful resources in the trademark section of Nolo's website.