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Political correctness & trademarks

By Francisco Capetillo | 17-Nov-2022

Political correctness refers to speaking or communicating without offending anyone or marginalizing groups identified by specific social characteristics, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. 

Over the years, there have been brands that have stayed in the trade “without offending” anyone. However, in recent years, certain companies have changed their brands and/or packaging due to political correctness issues. 

To cite a few examples, one of the largest and most prestigious companies in Mexico, Grupo Bimbo, has been selling food products such as bread, cookies, pastries, and cupcakes in Mexico and throughout North and South America for many years. The company produced a chocolate-covered and filled cupcake called “Negrito”, whose name was removed in 2013 to avoid any offense. The product has now been renamed “Nito.”

©BIMBO

There are other examples in the United States that be cited. The Washington American football team is no longer called the "Redskins." The team was founded in 1932 as the Boston Braves, but team founder George Preston Marshall changed the name to “Redskins” a year later to avoid confusion with baseball’s Boston Braves. The team moved to Washington, DC, in 1937. The name’s reference to skin color and its logo depicting a Native American with feathers in his hair has been criticized. Still, the team steadfastly resisted efforts to change its name. However, the franchise faced renewed pressure to finally do so in 2020 in response to growing pressure from investors.

©Washington Commanders

The Land O'Lakes butter brand had a Native American drawing removed from the packaging.

©Land O’Lakes, Inc

The maple honey and pancakes Aunt Jemima brand removed the drawing of the namesake, and UNCLE BEN'S rice brand packaging was stripped of the picture of the famous uncle's portrait.

© Quaker Oats Company
© Mars, Inc

Eskimo Pie was rebranding after acknowledging its name and logo's insensitivity towards native arctic communities.

©Nestlé

In Germany, the term AFRIKA was removed.

©Bahlsen

In the automotive industry, Jeep could find itself without the Grand Cherokee or the smaller Cherokee if political correctness forces the company to find replacements. 

What does this have to do with trademark protection? 

Brands are evolving with inclusion and respect at the forefront, and these changes make us think about the following: 

  1. Does the mark lose or gain distinctiveness with these changes?
  2. Is the protection of trade dress affected?
  3. What happens if an infringer uses the mark or image that was suppressed? Does the owner have legal action against the infringer?
  4. Does the value of the brand increase or decrease? 

We can ask ourselves these and many other questions. From a trademark standpoint, these trademarks and trade dress may lose distinctiveness when modified for political correctness.  What do you think? Food for thought.

Francisco Capetillo
Senior Partner |
Trademark, Litigation, Consulting, Auditing, IP Rights Protection and Maintenance
Francisco joined Iberbrand® in 2016 and brought 25+ years of experience in all the IP fields. He likes to be part of his client's success.
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Houston, TX
Iberbrand International LLC
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