When you think of The Hershey Company, you think of delicious chocolate candy bars, chocolate kisses, and a fabulous amusement park in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The company’s brown candy bar wrappers with the HERSHEY’S trademark prominently displayed on the front have been in use since, at least, 1905, and the company owns numerous US trademark registrations for this version of this mark for candy and other products. However, Hershey is not so sweet on a Maryland State Senator Steve Hershey’s chocolate-colored campaign signs which, it claims, bear a striking resemblance to its famous trademark and trade dress, and has filed suit against the Senator for trademark infringement and related claims. A side-by-side comparison of the Hershey trademark and Senator Hershey’s chocolate-colored campaign signs are displayed in the Complaint and in connection with an article inThe Baltimore Sun newspaper.

The company does not object to the use of the HERSHEY name or to any of the Senator’s political communications. However, according to the Complaint, the company contends that the Senator’s signs are “a blatant attempt to use the fame and equity that [the company has] built in the Hershey’s trade dress to draw more attention to his campaign,” and that this use falsely indicates to or is likely to confuse consumers in believing that the company “has sponsored, endorsed, authorized, or otherwise is associated with” Senator Hershey, his campaign or his campaign’s fundraising efforts. As of this writing, no response to the Complaint has yet been filed.

Apparently, the company and the Senator have had numerous disputes over this issue since 2002. Senator Hershey, in response to a cease-and-desist letter from the company, stopped using the offending signs for a period of time, but began use again in recent campaigns. According to The Baltimore Sun article, the Senator has stated that “the Hershey Company’s allegations raise serious questions about infringing on my constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and participation as a candidate in the political process,” and that his most recent design logo, which he describes as using his “surname in a common font while tying in a Maryland flag scheme” is a “fair compromise.”

Senator Hershey joins other politicians we have mentioned in several prior blog posts who were accused of the unauthorized use of third-party trademarks and copyrighted works as part of political campaigns. And as we reported in an article published in conjunction with the 2012 Obama Campaign, even a US President must get authorization before improperly using a third party’s intellectual property.