Judge rules against Spam in Spam v Spa'am

John Carlin
Saturday 23 September 1995 23:02

JUST over a year after the great Spam fritter scandal cast a cloud on John Major's D-Day commemoration plans, the unglamourous meat product is back in the news. A court in New York has thrown out a legal bid by Spam's inventors to block the release of a Muppet film on the grounds that it would damage sales of the product.

Hormel Foods Corporation claimed that Jim Henson Productions, the Muppets' creators, had violated trademark law by giving the name "Spa'am" to a puppet character in Muppet Treasure Island, a feature film due for release in February. It also complained that the character of Spa'am, a wild boar, was "evil in porcine form", and that the film unfairly portrayed pigs as unhygienic.

But Judge Kimba Wood, ruling late on Friday, declared that Hormel should, if anything, be grateful for the publicity.

In the film, Spa'am is the fierce chief of a tribe of wild boars who worship Miss Piggy and terrorise the hero, Kermit the Frog. Hormel described Spa'am as "a grotesque and noxious-appearing wild boar" and claimed that the name Spam was being used in such an "unsavoury context" that sales would undoubtedly suffer.

Laura Peracchio, a marketing professor at Wisconsin university, testified for Hormel that the Spa'am character came across as "unhygienic" and would undermine the "affirmative associations" Spam conjured up in consumers' minds.

But Judge Wood said that while Spa'am appeared untidy, there were no grounds to infer he neglected his personal hygiene. The judge also dismissed arguments that the sale of Spa'am T-shirts and other merchandise would do "irreparable harm" to Spam's good name.

"Spam is a luncheon meat," the judge said. "Spa'am is a wild boar in a Muppet motion picture. One might think that more need not be said."

Since Spam was introduced by Hormel in 1937, five billion tins have been sold worldwide. Although its peak of popularity has passed, the firm boasts that 3.8 cans are still eaten in the US every second.

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