Most people will agree that one of life’s better pleasures is chocolate, and that one of the biggest and most successful purveyors of chocolate is Hershey’s. So when Williams-Sonoma Inc. recently introduced a non-stick, cast aluminum baking pan that “creates one large brownie or cake, scored into 12 embossed chocolate-bar shapes,” Hershey’s lawyers marched into the US District Court, not far from Hershey, PA, seeking an injunction to stop the alleged dilution of their iconic trademark. According to Hershey Co., the shape of the company’s signature chocolate bar isn’t just an ordinary rectangle made up of 12 smaller rectangles or “bars,” but rather a design that immediately triggers association in consumers’ minds with Hershey products. This may be true, but there’s more here than the legal analysis.
The Williams-Sonoma product touches a nerve in the American psyche. It’s not just about chocolate, but the 12-bar pattern. How many playground scraps were started or ended, or friends temporarily won or lost, by the division of those 12 little pieces of happiness? To kids, parents, athletes, workers and soldiers for almost a century, that 12-bar pattern symbolizes a moment of happiness that could be shared with others. Even for a lactose-intolerant kid like myself, whatever side effects I would later endure were well worth it after enjoying a few of those rectangles of chocolate with friends; the best experience your last quarter could buy.
Yes, I’ve had Godiva truffles, but a plain Hershey’s milk chocolate bar with that 12-bar pattern is like coming home. Williams-Sonoma’s lawyer’s will have to show some pretty fancy footwork to convince a trier of fact who was ever a kid, that the 12-bar pattern shouldn’t be associated with a Hershey’s chocolate bar and what that represents to each of us.