Monday, December 10, 2007

12-10-07: Name Ownership

Freedom has been coming under fire for some time now. It’s nothing new, and technology has its role to play, but it’s essentially the result of “good business.” People scream out against the Federal government and how it’s destroying our privacy rights and whatnot, but you don’t really hear too much about another major cause: corporate greed.

I am a firm believer in a free market economy. I think it works well and drives our economy. But I cringe whenever I hear stories like I heard this morning. A charitable organization based out of Potsdam, New York, was contacted by General Mills and told it could not call its annual bake-off a bake-off. The Potsdam Food Co-op has run its “Holiday Bake Off” for charity for nine years, and all proceeds go to the help feed the hungry. No government support, just good people out to help the needy. But that doesn’t fit the business model that Pillsbury, owned by General Mills, wants. After all, they “own” the term “bake off.”

I understand when companies go after product names that violate intellectual property of original names or brand names. If some one is trying to make a buck off a name, like iPod or Frostee, then the company has the right to go after the people. But wouldn’t a charitable organization, which had no idea the term “bake off” was owned by a multinational corporation, be the exception to the rule? Laws are in place to protect people from loss. But how much loss is General Mills suffering because of a local fundraiser? I’d think the negative publicity they’re now getting is costing them more than whatever profits they hope to make by denying the use of the name.

I wonder how this whole process came about. Did some one from General Mills see a sign for the event, and just instinctively say “Oh God no! We own that word!” ? Did some one lose because of a bad submission and take it out by reporting the event? If it’s been going on for nearly a decade, and only now is it being changed, it can’t be that big of an event. Is there some sort of new policy at General Mills to go after any and all “opponents”? It’s just strange. It’s not unlike how Apple has been going around trying to shut down iAnything. Oops (please don’t tell Apple I said that…).

This sort of thing infringes upon a basic freedom, and it’s in the name of “good business.” You’d think they would have thought this thing through at General Mills a little beforehand. I’m all for protecting the company against illegal profit by other companies, but when they show no heart and go after a charitable organization, it just upsets me. You have to know where to draw the line. It’s not like companies that size are 100% all-legal all-the-time. They know how to bend rules. Why not go easy on people who are trying to help feed the hungry? Why not sponsor the event? Isn’t that good business? I’m not calling for any government involvement, just a little common sense on the part of the businesses who profit off of good American consumers.

The organizers of the event are now scrambling to come up with a new name, but they’ll have to settle for “Holiday Baking Contest,” and they’re clever enough to make a suggestion box in the shape of a Pillsbury Doughboy. One suggestion is to call it a “Bake On” next year. I hope no one owns that one!

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