District court judgment affirmed in full

Storied Past

Anyone who watched television in the 1980s might remember the Parks Sausage Company’s commercial tagline: “More Parks Sausages, Mom, Please?”

It was a well-known slogan for a brand with an illustrious history. Parks, founded in 1951 by African-American businessman Henry G. Parks Jr., was the first African-American-owned company to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The company began to fade in the decades after Parks’ death in 1989 and was sold to new owners. Instead of continuing to make and sell sausages, the company entered into license agreements with other enterprises to sell its products under the Parks moniker.

In the course of this new arrangement, Parks let its trademark slip – in the early 2000s, the company’s mark was not renewed with the Patent and Trademark Office. But the brand, no longer actively advertised on television, began a modest sales comeback.

You’re Out!

Tyson Foods, the well-known food industry giant, launched a new brand in 2014: “Park’s Finest,” a premium version of its Ball Park Franks brand. The following year, Parks filed suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Tyson, claiming that the company was engaging in false advertising, false association and trademark dilution against the original Parks trademark. Parks sought a nationwide injunction under the Lanham Act.

The court swept the suit aside with a summary judgment against Parks’ remaining claims of false association and false advertising. “No reasonable factfinder could find in Parks’s favor,” the court maintained.

The Takeaway

Parks appealed, but the Third Circuit affirmed the district court ruling on the final remaining claims. The false advertising arguments were dismissed for several reasons. First, the Third Circuit did not accept Parks’ argument that Tyson’s use of its mark was a misrepresentation of “geographic origin” pursuant to the Lanham Act’s false advertising definition. Rather than referring to a product’s creator, manufacturer or other broader definition of the term origin, the Third Circuit concluded, the term “geographic origin” refers solely to the product’s place of origin. The appellate court also noted that Parks’ false advertising claims relied on consumers associating Tyson’s product with Parks’ brand, which was really, at bottom, a false association claim.

On the false association claim, the appellate court noted that the Parks mark was not inherently distinctive, but rather merely a use of the founder’s name. It also noted that there was no reason to believe that consumers would link Tyson’s use of “Park’s” with the original brand presence.