Heartland Consumer Products, owner of the Splenda brand, hired undercover private investigators to pose as customers at Applebee’s and IHOP restaurants and determine whether the restaurant chains were falsely identifying the artificial sweetener they were handing out to diners as Splenda brand rather than identifying it generically as sucralose. The servers confirmed to the “customers” it was Splenda when asked, putting the chain on the hook for trademark infringement. A similar case was brought against Dunkin Donuts and settled last year.
In addition to the claims for trademark infringement, Heartland alleged false designation of origin, unfair competition and trademark dilution. In addition to monetary damages, Heartland seeks corrective advertising to remedy the misidentification of the chains’ private label sweeteners as Splenda and to inform customers that the sweeteners actually offered by the chains were manufactured in China. Splenda is made-in-the-USA and this a strong part of its marketing and brand identity.
The take-away here is to train your servers to identify Splenda alternatives as sucralose sweetener rather than “Splenda.” Splenda is a product produced by one company, not a general term to the sweetener sucralose. It is a brand and must be used that way.
Is Heartland being a troll by undertaking this investigation and enforcement? Not at all. They are policing their mark as required by trademark law. They are also taking affirmative steps to avoid its mark from being genericized from incorrect usage. If they don’t correct people’s use of the term, their valuable brand (and investment in creating it and protecting it) will go down the tubes like former brands murphy bed and aspirin. They are doing what they need to in order to maintain the trademark registration and preventing it from being cancelled.