Old Bay Suing Makers of Alleged Knock-Off Spice Blend New Bae

published Dec 14, 2018
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(Image credit: Kaitlin Flannery)

There’s a troubling trend over the past few years where new companies try to win the consumer race by showing up at the finish line without having run the track first. What I mean by that is, more than ever, folks are attempting to profit off of the familiarity of somebody else’s creation. It happened with Kayla Newman’s beautiful invention of the phrase “on fleek.” It happened with a wedding company that decided Beyonce’s name wasn’t actually hers (they were wrong about that), and now, a new company is trying to profit off of the hard work of one of our favorite seasonings.

Bloomberg reports that Maryland staple and spice-making giant McCormick has filed litigation for copyright infringement over their seafood-boosting spice blend Old Bay. The suit, which was brought Monday against Primal Palate LLC, a Paleo company owned by couple Hayley Mason and Bill Staley, was not the first indication of trouble, either; McCormick sent Primal Palate a cease-and-desist letter as soon as the company announced in October 2017 that it would start selling a seasoning blend called “New Bae.”

A month after that claim, Primal’s lawyer “acknowledged that the smaller company was seeking to piggyback on McCormick’s name recognition, according to the complaint,” Bloomberg states. Also, the Pittsburgh-based company admitted the name was “a terrible pun” (hard agree) intended to promote a “bay seasoning.” McCormick contends that Primal is only telling half the truth there, because of New Bae’s stark familiarity in recipe and name to the ubiquitous Old Bay seasoning that’s been shaking around since 1939.

“We do not see legal merit to the claims that McCormick has made,” Primal Palate said Tuesday in a statement. “Primal Palate understands and respects McCormick’s desire to police its trademarks. However, in this instance, there is nothing actionable to police.” (Another good word instead of using “police” twice would have probably been “defend,” but one can glean this lawyer is trying to make McCormick seem overly aggressive with this lawsuit.)

The lawyer later added that Primal “sees McCormick as a foundation of the spice industry,” He added, “In choosing the name ‘New Bae,’ Primal Palate was giving a ‘nod’ to the impact that the Old Bay seasoning has made on the spice market.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had planned to issue a trademark to Primal Palate until McCormick filed to oppose the registration. McCormick wants New Bae pulled from the U.S. market. It also wants the destruction of all materials bearing the New Bae mark, and cash compensation including Primal’s profits and damages.

I guess the new year will come with all those answers, since a hearing before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is likely to be held in early 2019.