Seems Heidi got her braids in a bunch. ConAgra (NYSE:CAG), the maker of Swiss Miss hot chocolate, got its lederhosen twisted after noticing that Dean Foods was selling tea under the name "Swiss" with a depiction of the Alps in the background. As any hot chocolate aficionado knows (and I like mine with the little marshmallows), Swiss Miss also shows the Alps on its packaging.

Sven's on line 2
And he's got something to say about appropriating national symbols for commercial purposes.

It's just natural to associate the mountain range with the Swiss. Although their army's got some really cool knives and we'd all love government bureaucracy to run like one of their watches, I'm not sure how you'd otherwise depict a country whose main claim to fame seems to be international neutrality and numbered bank accounts.

But having seen the two images, I'm not sure there's much chance for confusion.

A graven image
No one's arguing it's not important for companies to protect their stock in trade. Brands and trademarks represent not only the good feelings consumers derive from products and services, but also a sizeable investment on the part of the company.

Who can say Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) doesn't receive huge returns on its brand since there's little intrinsic value from flavored carbonated water? Coke's trademarks are carried at more than $6 billion on the company's balance sheet.

And Gucci made a strong case that Guess? (NYSE:GES) was infringing on its brand by replicating design details -- from its green-red-green stripe to the interlocking "G" symbol -- and then selling them at a discount.

More holes than Swiss cheese
It's just that businesses need to have a thicker skin. Companies can go too far taking excessive umbrage at perceived slights.

Whatever you might think about the fashion statement that Crocs (NASDAQ:CROX) plastic shoes make, it's not possible you're going to confuse it with a high-end sports car. Yet that didn't stop Porsche from suing the shoemaker because Crocs' Cayman style was the same name as one of its luxury cars. I wonder if Porsche cleared its use of the word with the preferred island haven of tax cheats?

Hasbro (NYSE:HAS) once sued Clue Computing, alleging that consumers may become confused by Clue Computing's use of a domain name that is similar to the toymaker's online support for its Clue game franchise. Clearer heads prevailed when the court ruled there was little likelihood users would confuse the computer services company with Professor Plum committing murder in the conservatory with a lead pipe.

Interestingly, Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) owned the word "iPhone" long before Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) added "i" to every word in the dictionary. They settled their dispute by essentially agreeing to share the trademark.

Wide of the mark
ConAgra spends between $2.7 million and $4.5 million yearly on marketing for Swiss Miss, and it records the value of its own trademarks at some $835 million. That figure also includes some powerful industry brands such as Hunt's, Hebrew National, and Chef Boyardee.

As important as this trademark fight might seem to ConAgra, it seems this dispute is off the mark.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.