Orange County - A fierce battle is underway between the nation's top cheese producers over the rights to the term 'Toppers'. Saputo Cheese USA, Inc. holds the U.S. Trademark for 'Toppers' and the company claims that Kraft Food Group, Inc. infringed on its trademark by using the same term in its product description.
Saputo, a U.S. subsidiary of the Canadian company by the same name, filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois against the snack food giant on June 7th. Saputo claims it has used the term TOPPERS continuously since 1996, and has held U.S. Trademark Registration Number 2,330,529 since 2000.
The alleged infringement began in late 2012, when Kraft introduced its Velveeta brand 'Toppers', which are microwaveable pouches of Velveeta cheese product. The new product is designed for use as a single-serve nacho cheese dip and comes in two varieties, Queso Blanco and Original.
The use of 'Toppers' by Velveeta, an Illinois-based corporation owned by Kraft, is particularly damaging, claims Saputo. The company claims that it has developed a reputation for quality cheeses under its TOPPERS label, and argues that the term's use by Velveeta will cause irreparable damage to the reputation of the brand.
Saputo has utilized its 'Toppers' trademark in its Stella Toppers cheese brand, described as Artisan-Style Toppings, with products including Fresh Mozzarella, Parmesan, and Blue Cheese. The company fears that if customers believe the Velveeta 'Toppers' product is associated with the Stella Toppers cheese, it will damage the reputation of Saputo Cheese.
Lawyers for Saputo sent a cease-and-desist letter to Kraft on May 23rd, demanding that the company immediately stop all use of the term 'Toppers'. Kraft's counsel stated in its email response on May 31st that it would investigate the matter. To date, the company has not stopped use of the trademark that Saputo claims is infringing.
In its lawsuit against Kraft, Saputo cites trademark infringement as well as false advertising, unfair competition, and violation of the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act under Illinois law. The company is also seeking damages, including injunctive and monetary relief.