Saturday, May 04, 2013

California milk trade group objects to kids' science project "Got sour milk?"

Some elementary school students  (at the Potomac Elementary School in northern Virginia) developed a chemical test (rather like a pH with a litmus in Chemistry class) to detect sour milk before it can be tasted as sour. It could even be of potential commercial interest. 
They called their project “Got sour milk?” and apparently named their website domain that.
But then the California Milk Processor Board (apparently an industry trade group) sent a cease-and-desist letter, claiming trademark infringement on their own “Got milk?” slogan.  It’s not completely clear whether they objected just to the domain name (or subdomain name), or to the public use of the slogan even in Virginia.
The local paper “Potomac Patch” reported on the matter here.
It sounds highly dubious to me that such a claim could have prevailed, particularly when it was a slogan on a state-based group (not Virginia). Also, the phrase was clearly different to anyone with common sense.
The kids changed the project to “Don’t Be a Sourpuss”, here.  

There could be an interesting question whether a domain name can infringe on a trademark when it is equated to a subdomain on another site.  What about a blog name on Blogger or Wordpress?
I’ll ask Electronic Frontier Foundation about this one. Apparently the kids, their parents, or the school system didn't have the resources to fight the bullies on what sounds like a frivolous claim that would probably lose in court.  Although, one can wonder what the environment would be if the kids were selling a chemical test commercially online or in supermarkets later.  I think that the USPTO probably would have approved their original phrase as a trademark/ 
At the very least. having to change the domain name upon a "cd" threat disrupted the indexing of the site into search engines, and compromised the likelihood that others could find it.  

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