Garrett’s Popcorn “Chicago Mix” Trademark Battle: What is the Creative Entrepreneur’s Most Overlooked Asset?

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The world-famous Garrett’s Popcorn (legally registered as CaramelCrisp, LLC) is embroiled in a battle with Minnesota-based Candyland, Inc. over the trademark for “Chicago Mix.” In the second city, we associate that phrase with the delicious blend of cheese and caramel corn from Garrett’s. The Chicago Tribune reports that the small-business plaintiff Candyland has been using this name since 1988 and registered the trademark in 1992.

Apparently, this isn’t the first time that the two companies have bumped heads over the brand. In 2008, co-owner Brenda Lamb sent Garrett’s a letter requesting that they cease use of the “Chicago Mix” brand. Settlements were underway but never materialized. Grant Deady a representative of Garrett’s, stated that the company was transitioning from using “Chicago Mix” and had begun using “Garrett Mix” instead. However, “Chicago Mix” signage is still on display at the Michigan Avenue store. This trademark dispute is a classic example of small biz playing big.

Just because you are a small business, it doesn’t mean that you act like one.

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Candyland has done an incredible job of protecting their trademark and it’s clear that the owners understood the power of intellectual property from the early stages of their business. According to Brenda, “It’s not how much money you have. It’s what you did legally to protect the name of your product.”

What small biz lesson can you learn from the “Chicago Mix” situation?

Register your trademark.

Candyland’s owners decided that “Chicago Mix” was an important aspect of their brand, and took a critical step to protect it — registering it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Federal registration offers several benefits, but the most important are priority over other companies who want to use your brand name and the right to sue in Federal Court for infringement. Before federal trademark registration, “Chicago Mix” was just a catchy name. Now, it’s a viable asset. Assets like trademarks tend to be such a vague concept for small business owners. And because of that, we tend to ignore the possibilities. But, think of trademarks as real estate, then you will see it much differently.

Think about it.

  • Real estate provides an additional income stream and can be sold or rented to others (just as trademarks can be licensed or sold).
  • Real estate under normal market conditions appreciates over time (just as trademarks appreciate as you gain more brand equity).

Policing your trademark.

After a trademark is successfully registered with the USPTO, then the owner must police it. What does this mean? You must monitor your trademark to identify other companies who may be wrongfully using it and infringing on your ish. Some business owners get the first step, but fail to monitor. This can be done by setting up a simple Google Alert, or working with an attorney who can provide more sophisticated monitoring. Either way, it is your duty to monitor the registered mark or you risk losing your rights to it, if ever challenged by a competitor.

I know first hand how easy it is to become distracted by the daily grind. But no matter how busy you are, remember that when you started your business you didn’t set out to create a job for yourself. You set out to build a business. Building a business means that you think big picture, and plan long term.

Long term business planning includes….taking care of your virtual real estate.

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