Monday, November 26, 2007

There's just no way to make "chicken by-products" sound appealing

Which is why pet food makers who use them don't like to mention them, I presume.

Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc. v. Nutro Products, Inc., 2007 WL 4105571 (C.D. Cal.)

Hill’s, maker of the very Science Diet I feed my cat, sued competing pet food producer Nutro for, among other things, false advertising. A couple of points: a statement on Nutro’s “Health Lesson” ad display that its Complete Care “offers the optimum combination of premium ingredients” was nonactionable puffery. Hill’s also challenged various statements allegedly implying that Complete Care doesn’t contain animal byproducts, but did not show admissible evidence of consumer deception. Likewise, as to Nutro’s MAX Cat product, the court granted summary judgment on the claim that Nutro’s ad display falsely implied that chicken by-products are unhealthy for lack of evidence of deception, but, based on a consumer survey, allowed Hill’s to proceed against the alleged implication that MAX Cat doesn’t contain animal by-products.

The court also denied summary judgment regarding the statement that MAX Cat’s chicken meal is made only from those parts “you’d feed your own family,” based on an industry organization’s pet food labeling guide, which states that such claims are “false and misleading unless the entire product, itself, meets the USDA and FDA standards for feeds edible by humans.” Industry consensus is rarely used to show falsity, much less misleadingness, but it can happen.

Hill’s also claimed that Nutro infringed Hill’s “Nature’s Best” mark by using “Nature’s Very Best Ingredients” on its displays and “The Best of Nature” on its packaging. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Nutro based on the weakness of the “Nature’s Best” mark. The court referred to the absence of evidence of actual confusion and “obvious dissimilarity” in sight, sound, and meaning, but neither of those would have been all that helpful if not for the high descriptiveness of the mark. The court also noted differences in the parties’ house marks, and pointed out that Nutro’s slogan is actually “The Best of Nature. The Best of Science. The Best of Health.” Taken as a whole, it wasn’t likely to confuse.

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