Suing over an umlaut

How would you feel if you knew that Häagen-Dazs was not a Scandinavian product? Sorry to shatter your illusions dear readers, but Häagen-Dazs ice-cream was made in the Bronx by a Polish immigrant who wanted a Danish-sounding name for his new recipe. The legend goes that as a tribute to Denmark’s exemplary treatment of its Jews during the Second World War and its yummy dairy products, Reuben Mattus sat at his New York kitchen table for hours, saying nonsensical words until he came up with a “Danish-sounding” combination he liked to promote his frozen cream.

As it turns out, not only is Häagen-Dazs not composed of any Danish words, “äa” and “zs” are not spellings native to any Scandinavian language. A bit of linguistic deception you might think, either that or a piece of very clever branding which has clearly worked well. In any case, Häagen-Dazs certainly seemed to think that they now owned “Scandanavian-sounding things” as well as the umlaut apparently, as that is exactly what they sued the new ice-cream company Früsen-Gladjé over in 1980. Forget that Früsen-Gladjé are actually real words meaning ‘frozen joy’ in Swedish, and that an umlaut over the ‘u’ is the way this word is spelled in a real language.

Häagen-Dazs also sued Früsen-Gladjé  over a number of other points including the use of a map of a European country on the packaging (albeit not the same country), giving instructions on how to eat the product (leave to melt slightly first) and pretending to be European (apparently this is a trademark infringement in America). You’ll be happy to know that the court refused to extend Häagen-Dazs protection to its Scandinavian marketing theme, finding that the difference in the trade dress of the two products was apparent “to all but the most obtuse consumer.” And so the umlaut lives on to be used for marketing purposes another day.

Happily for Häagen-Dazs, they found someone else to sue later on: a Chinese company claiming to sell clothes under the name ‘Haager Dasz’. And this time they won. Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream also recently got into a legal battle over trademark infringement, but it wasn’t with another ice-cream company. I won’t go into details here, suffice to say that ‘Ben & Cherry’s Boston Cream Thigh’ was being marketed to another consumer base altogether.


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