The battle over trademarks can be a complete mess. Often, this battle sees giant corporations trying to take down small businesses with cease and desist letters. But this might be the first time we’ve seen a corporation go after, of all things, an alt rock band. Cereal manufacturer Post Foods has filed a lawsuit against OK Go (the band responsible for that massively popular 2006 music video on the treadmills) because the group’s name is the same as Post’s new line of “OK Go!” cereal cups.
Last time I checked, I was able to recognize the difference between a cup of instant cereal and a four-piece rock band, but that could just be a special talent I have. Billboard reports that this ongoing saga involves a lot of finger pointing, threats, and legal back-and-forth between Post and OK Go.
In the lawsuit, filed on January 13, Post claimed the band had been threatening to sue since the company released its new OK Go! cereal product, which is nearly identical to Kellogg’s Instabowls. With both products, all you do is add cold water to the cereal cup; the instant milk powder reconstitutes into regular milk, resulting in a proper bowl of cereal you can eat on the go. (If Kellogg went after Post for somehow infringing on its products, this would turn into an all-out Battle Royale, for which I’d whip out the popcorn.)
Post wants to end up with something called a “declaratory judgment,” which means a judge would show that no wrongdoing was done by the corporation. Because cereal and rock bands don’t have a whole lot in common, the cereal company argues that trademark rights don’t overlap in this situation.
OK Go said in a statement to Billboard:
A big corporation chose to steal the name of our band to market disposable plastic cups of sugar to children. That was an unwelcome surprise, to say the least. But then they sue US about it? Presumably, the idea is that they can just bully us out of our own name, since they have so much more money to spend on lawyers? I guess that’s often how it works, but hopefully, we’ll be the exception.
This thing just gets messier. OK Go had sent a cease-and-desist letter to Post last September about the name overlap. The band’s lawyer had argued that because the band is known for its brand collaborations with companies like Mercedes Benz, Google, and even Post itself (the band promoted Honey Bunches of Oats in 2011), people could be misled into thinking the musical group had something to do with the cereal.
Post responded back then with what sounds like a pretty good dose of snark:
Given the length of time that has passed since that limited collaboration over a decade ago, the very small number of views indicated on the YouTube videos you referenced, and the general consuming public’s rather short attention span, it will also have absolutely no bearing on consumer perception of Post’s mark OK GO! used with cereal or cereal-based snacks, and will not lead to any mistaken association with OK Go.
Shots fired. Post offered to pay the band to drop all the bickering between the two parties (while retaining the product name), but OK Go rejected the money, which is why Post ended up filing the lawsuit this month.
I don’t think it would have been too difficult for Post to find an alternative name for its product, and I’m willing to bet that the overlap with the band’s name was pointed out at some early stage of the development process. Why not go with literally any other two words in the dictionary, Post? OK Go came up with its name 25 years before you did. And besides, you’re making They Might Be Giants upset.