When you think of Skillet Sensations, what springs to mind?
Chain restaurant Applebee's
Despite its frozen-food billing, and with consumers' time more and more a precious commodity, Stouffer's Skillet Sensations have been a big hit with consumers. They enable a meal prepared at home without purchasing, slicing, and dicing all the separate ingredients.
If Applebee's is worried that the Stouffer's product is eating away at the popularity of its own entrees, well, maybe it is, but not necessarily because of any name confusion. With the last few years leaving consumers a little more concerned with saving money, many simply prefer the cheaper option of eating at home. That's not about Skillet Sensations per se, but about economic climate.
One strange aspect of the case is that neither product is new. Applebee's Skillet Sensations line has been around since 1996, and the Stouffer's version hit the grocery store scene about a year later. So the two companies' products with the twin names have lived parallel lives for about six years.
So why the delay, and the sudden interest? Was it that just one too many Applebee's customer asked, "Can't I just make this at home?" Or, "Is this frozen?" Or is it just a reason to rumble for a cash settlement?
Regardless, there is a principle here -- trademark infringement is serious. In this case, it could have so easily been avoided. After all, one would think a massive company like Nestle, which brings in $30 billion in annual sales, had the tools at hand to do the market research to realize, "Hey, there's already a product called Skillet Sensations out there -- anybody have a thesaurus?" It seems a pretty easy rule: Never use another product's name, to avoid a little legal scrape like this one.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages. Further, the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board already ruled in favor of Applebee's in September.
This might leave a bad taste for Nestle and its popular item.
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