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You Be the Judge: Sweet Trademarks

Dec 30, 2008

by Sarah Feingold

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Most of us may associate the word “trademark” with certain products (like the logo on a sneaker, the design on can of cola, or a symbol handbag) and these trademarks help identify the creator of the product.  In this “You Be the Judge,” we investigate the trademark of a delicious sugary cupcake decoration.

Sprinkles Cupcakes is a cupcake bakery with roots in California.  Although the author of this article has not had the opportunity to sample the delicacy, Hollywood seems to adore the cupcakes.  According to Sprinkles, in October 2004, the company started using their “nested circle design” to indicate the flavor of the mini-cake.  Sprinkles registered the design for trademark protection in April 2007.

Famous Cupcakes is also a cupcake bakery (and again, unfortunately the author cannot attest for the quality of these cupcakes).  According to the website, the owner of Famous Cupcakes began selling her sweets door-to-door over 20 years ago at the age of seven.

In a federal lawsuit filed in August, Sprinkles alleges that Famous incorporated the “nested circle design” on Famous’ packaging, store decor, and website.

Although you may need a taste test to fully judge this case, in the case of the cupcake circles, You Be the Judge. Click here to see Famous’ graphics on their website and Sprinkles’ here.

What’s your take on the controversy? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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78 comments

  • ChelseaVanTol

    ChelseaVanTol said 10 years ago

    very cute

  • LORiOLA

    LORiOLA said 10 years ago

    drat. now I want cupcakes!!

  • cakelove

    cakelove said 10 years ago

    they don't really look that similar - that of sprinkles is very distinct and particular (geometric/graphic design-esque) and i wouldn't even make any association between the two if i didn't know about this case. i'd be inclined to drop this case :)

  • purplelemondesigns

    purplelemondesigns said 10 years ago

    I am sure that I really see that much of a similarity either...I do really want a cupcake now...

  • KellesKitchen

    KellesKitchen said 10 years ago

    Ha ha. This is incredible. I wonder if i can trademark putting a rectangular label on soap and then sue someone for using rectangular labels?! Their identification methods seem different to me! Nom nom nom. Looks like someone is making cupcakes today!

  • parallelbotany

    parallelbotany said 10 years ago

    The only similarity I can see is that both cupcakes have a single confetti decoration type thing on the top. The frosting is applied very differently. Famous has a big fat swirl of icing, Sprinkles icing is smoothed over.

  • LaveMeSoapCo

    LaveMeSoapCo said 10 years ago

    well, seeing that i personally don't like cupcakes, i think that people are being silly nilly over nothing.

  • babyannequilts

    babyannequilts said 10 years ago

    nope. I don't see it. I don't see a close enough resemblance to the Sprinkles circle logo on the Famous website.

  • ArtWhims

    ArtWhims said 10 years ago

    hmm... that is interesting. I understand when a business wants to remain unique, and with graphics on the packaging it makes a little sense, but as far as the food itself, I wonder. I guess what would be of question here is if the circle in the center is what makes the cupcakes recognizable as the company's or not.

  • moonofglass

    moonofglass said 10 years ago

    I see what you mean. They are different, though, if only based on the angle of the photo.

  • beachhouseblues

    beachhouseblues said 10 years ago

    Makes me want sweets!

  • waltersbeads

    waltersbeads said 10 years ago

    dont go crazy over nothing. there are more important things in life ;-)

  • ImogensGarden

    ImogensGarden said 10 years ago

    i have been fortunate enough to sample a Sprinkles cupcake (thank you, Dr. Phil), and i gotta tell you, they are delicious!! that said, i would recognize a Sprinkles cupcake at 20 paces, and the Famous ones (haven't had the pleasure unfortunately) don't look a darned thing like 'em. if i were the judge, i'd drop this one.

  • GemmaBeads

    GemmaBeads said 10 years ago

    Whole lotta hoopla that cost money and time. If they spent that much money and time towards something positive like giving back the same money and time to better their community, they would both be winners. Then, their "trademark" would be more than a stylized version of their product.

  • BabbidgePatch

    BabbidgePatch said 10 years ago

    Well, while very similar logos for both ~ is it really worth it for a lawsuit for either of them. Never mind the expense ~ the potential 'negative' associated with that type of action! So let their customers be the final judge by repeat orders from thier favorite baker.

  • christinececelia

    christinececelia said 10 years ago

    Mmmmm! I love cupcakes!!!

  • piccoladonna2006

    piccoladonna2006 said 10 years ago

    Very yummy!!! Interesting article!!

  • Sumikoshop

    Sumikoshop said 10 years ago

    ohh..I LOVE CUPCAKE !!!

  • ByBethany1990

    ByBethany1990 said 10 years ago

    I concur, the two seem different enough to me.

  • faeriesfolly

    faeriesfolly said 10 years ago

    Circles =/= Flowers... that said, this article DOES = a burning need for some cupcakes. haha ;)

  • eraseandrepeat

    eraseandrepeat said 10 years ago

    i'm craving for a cupcake! yummmm..

  • esdesigns

    esdesigns said 10 years ago

    Did they change their website already? I don't see any nested circles. They seem to be replaced with stars now.

  • maybeads

    maybeads said 10 years ago

    Mmmmmm, cupcakes!

  • bombalurina

    bombalurina said 10 years ago

    Boy, Target corp. is in for it next, those are some nested circles. This is a frivolous and harrassing suit. Maybe you can TM the insertion of circular identifiers into the cupcake icing, but nested circles are an incredibly common graphic design element.

  • paperelle

    paperelle said 10 years ago

    I don't see it, did they change it? Either way something as generic as circles would be tough to protect. And this is giving me a major sweets craving!

  • wildanimus

    wildanimus said 10 years ago

    Sprinkles Cupcakes is pretty much notorious for going after other bakeries. They will tell another cupcake shop to stop using "sprinkles" in their name, or stop using a dot motif. It's ridiculous. Do a Google search and you'll see. Cupcakes are supposed to be fun! Not something to sue over!

  • FrecklesKelly

    FrecklesKelly said 10 years ago

    What a bunch of crybabies at Sprinkles. They really don't look anything alike, other than Famous using one circle inside of another for their logo. -And I think stars are more the focal point and not the circle they're in. If they're going to get that touchy about it, maybe they should look out for a lawsuit from Target.

  • edithweezie

    edithweezie said 10 years ago

    Um, it's just frosting. I'd be more concerned if they were knocking off my recipies. Bad Sprinkles, BAD!

  • clevergirl

    clevergirl said 10 years ago

    Totally frivolous suit... The only similarity is that they both use circles and the color brown in their labeling. Is Sprinkles going to sue brown m&m's next? I would never confuse the two brands- from what I can see their demographic and style are worlds apart... The brown circle (and the brown circle with the serrated edge) appear to me as generic design elements and what they do with them is quite different... Also, the cupcakes have a much different style... One looks very chic and modern and high-end, the other looks boisterous and big haired (for lack of a better way to describe the cone of frosting atop the cupcake in quesiton)... Clearly a different aesthetic... Now if one of the companies had a patent on cupcakes, then it would be worth discussing... But yeah. I think someone has too much time and money on their hands to pursue this one...

  • AmyWilliamsDesign

    AmyWilliamsDesign said 10 years ago

    I don't see the problem myself, they are obviously different in all aspects except they both make cupcakes. Hope it gets thrown out.

  • StelmaDesigns

    StelmaDesigns said 10 years ago

    It's ridiculous and if I had a chance to buy a Sprinkles cupcake, I would definitely pass after reading this. It's greed and negativeness I don't support in these types of businesses. It's a CUPCAKE for heavens sake!

  • LaireMarie

    LaireMarie said 10 years ago

    StelmaDesigns I totally agree with you...soe people need to just relax...

  • AchAchLiebling

    AchAchLiebling said 10 years ago

    I think it's unethical when companies use their enormous wealth to strong-arm their competition in a court of law so that they can avoid having to compete in the open market. Bullying lawsuits, like this one, abetted by a big business-friendly regime of IP laws and jurisprudence that allow corporations to loot the public domain and trample upon common sense are anti-democratic and anti-competitive and hurt consumers as well as small businesses. Sprinkles, go frost yourself.

  • inkadinkadoodle

    inkadinkadoodle said 10 years ago

    We have to agree with the majority! I really don't see the problem... and we have had Sprinkles cupcakes - we don't like them and now we don't like the company either! We don't like copycats either, but tell ourselves to settle down and take it as a form of flattery.

  • RachelRose

    RachelRose said 10 years ago

    They don't look at all alike to me, I would drop this silly lawsuit. Anyway, cupcakes for everyone, there is enough to go round:)

  • MoyerQuilts

    MoyerQuilts said 10 years ago

    Look different to me. I would drop the case if I was the judge. I think trademarks are important but they look different.

  • SillyDolphinsJewelry

    SillyDolphinsJewelry said 10 years ago

    Oh my! This article mostly made me hungry! I was wondering--confectioners have been using designs on their chocolates for ages to denote the flavours inside their sweets, so are these designs copyrighted? If they are, there must be guidelines for how exact they must be. I don't think these are very similar.

  • InuInspirations

    InuInspirations said 10 years ago

    They don't look similar to me either. Seems like one of them is just trying to get rid of the competition since they are both in CA. I would have never confused one for the other. But it does make me want cupcakes now!

  • ValeriesVaria

    ValeriesVaria said 10 years ago

    I don't see the similarity either. Both sites are distinctive enough that I wouldn't confuse them. I am now hungry for cute little cakes.

  • littlelakecompany

    littlelakecompany said 10 years ago

    I don't see any similarity, really, except for the "cupcake calendar" thingy where each company lists their flavors and the days on which they are available. That area could be ripped off, I guess. But the only cupcakes for me are those from the MAGNOLIA BAKERY in NYC. They are to die for. (and all you Sex in the City fans know what I'm talkin about)

  • candlejan

    candlejan said 10 years ago

    How silly! I have to agree with the majority here...not similar at all. And if I came across a Sprinkles, don't think I'd waste my money. Sound like bullies to me. Now, where did I put that cupcake pan!!

  • soolkadesigns

    soolkadesigns said 10 years ago

    I dunno. I can see the similarities--brown, round, crinkle cup thing going, the thin sans serif retro looking font, but come on. I agree with most here--Sprinkles is obviously the 5000 lb gorilla, so chill out Sprinkles! I don't really see how you can trademark all the stuff I listed above. Yes, the entire look is somewhat similar, but I could argue that whoever did this retro cupcake look "first" ripped it off from somewhere else. If Dr Pepper and Mr Pibb can hang together, why can't Sprinkles? Can't we just GET ALONG?

  • fortheloveofflowers

    fortheloveofflowers said 10 years ago

    I must say that l don't see how they could have been granted a patent on their cupcake design. There are only a few ways to put frosting on the top of a cupcake. And l would just bet that millions of american mothers have frosted cupcakes that match both of these bakery patterns. The only difference in the two is the design set in the middle of the cupcake, and as long as neither of them use the center design on their cupcakes, then l see no one trying to rip the other one off. Next thing you know they will be warning millions of mothers to stop making cupcakes for their children because of copyrite infringement! But hey this is just my take on the whole batch of batter woes.

  • phydeaux

    phydeaux said 10 years ago

    I honestly don't see a similarity in the circle within a circle graphic, but that doesn't mean Sprinkles won't win their suit. If they have a trademark and make an argument that the court supports, then Famous Cupcakes will have to change their website. It makes for an interesting case - the "big guys" vs. the "little guys," with the big guys legally protecting their trademarks/etc. Corporate lawyers make very big bucks and for good reason - protecting the corporation! (That doesn't make it right.) Famous Cupcakes very definitely uses a cupcake flavor chart very similar to Sprinkles, which will likely come up during the course of their case!

  • mummus

    mummus said 10 years ago

    I can't believe there's a law suit over cupcake decorations! I guess we better put our cupcake topper off-centered or we might get sued. I really want to eat a cupcake now...

  • UrbanPrincess

    UrbanPrincess said 10 years ago

    People can be bitter... but those cupcake sure look mouth watering! I would order from both of them.

  • CraftyAlienPatterns

    CraftyAlienPatterns said 10 years ago

    If using a circle in a circle decoration to identify the cupcake (or cupcake BRAND) then the suit should be awarded to the company who can prove first use. Even if Sprinkles trademarked it first and Famous has not, if Famous can prove first use, they win. (It's not about the logos, it's about the center mark decoration on each and every cupcake both businesses make.) Taking this to court COULD very well backfire for Sprinkles if Famous can prove that this is their trademark (whether registered or not).

  • timesandchimes

    timesandchimes said 10 years ago

    Oh my the drama! I don't care who came up with it first, I just want to eat cupcakes.

  • JetWhitePonytail

    JetWhitePonytail said 10 years ago

    Hey There Cupcake! I'm with the majority, these cupcakes are easily distinguishable and uh if they have any more questions, I'm available for blind taste testing to further remedy the situation.... PS, I got a cupcake trinket box from Arriving Angels and can testify that it is 100% fat free and completely fabulous! http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=18104009

  • happywhosits

    happywhosits said 10 years ago

    I have personally been making cupcakes with some design in the middle of the icing all my life (that's 50+ years). I never heard of either of these companies, and I don't see that much similarity. I don't think Sprinkles should win this lawsuit. Eileen...

  • sarahfburns

    sarahfburns said 10 years ago

    I agree with everyone. Who cares, and give me a cupcake!

  • kellyzkreationz

    kellyzkreationz said 10 years ago

    who cares what a food cupcake looks like it's the taste that counts.

  • theRasilisk

    theRasilisk said 10 years ago

    I don't think there is enough similarity over the two to make a big deal. Circles are circles, and they are gonna look the same. Oh and cupcakes..., they are circles. Delicious, iced, circles....mmmmm.

  • laralewis

    laralewis said 10 years ago

    am i the only one that thought this was a joke at first? i'm guessing not. truth really is stranger than fiction!

  • IndulgeYourShelf

    IndulgeYourShelf said 10 years ago

    I think that there's only so much area to work with on the top of a cupcake so ;you have to allow for some similarities between "brands." Their web photos don't look all that similar to me, either! But I really, really want a cupcake now!

  • LoucheLab

    LoucheLab said 10 years ago

    Why not just sue all bakeries for even making cupcakes?! This is ridiculous, really a cup cake is a circular object, they put a circle shape in the middle of a circle, I don't think you can get copyrights for that... Actually they should sue target for stealing their design in the use of Target's logo...

  • littleredbear

    littleredbear said 10 years ago

    cupcake soap look so yummmmy!

  • Rose442

    Rose442 said 10 years ago

    cupcakes are yummo!

  • IcingOnTheCupcake

    IcingOnTheCupcake said 10 years ago

    Love cupcakes...hmmm, go figure!

  • kitsandcaboodles

    kitsandcaboodles said 10 years ago

    Is it wrong to want to eat that cupcake soap??!

  • Leelinau

    Leelinau said 10 years ago

    cupcake soap would drive me insane they look so real. too cute! ^__^

  • OurHandsToYours

    OurHandsToYours said 10 years ago

    The cupcakes are not very similar at all. There is an obvious difference in the cupcakes, as well as how the so-called "circle design" is presented on the websites. Sprinles' website seems to revolve around this circle design, while Famous' does not. As others have commented, I echo: I don't think there's much of a case here; drop the law suit. Life's too short! Happy New Year!!!!!!

  • susanegar

    susanegar said 10 years ago

    Sprinkles sues everybody. They have another lawsuit going on because someone has the word "sprinkled" in the name of their cupcake shop. ...As if they own the word (and all variations) "sprnikle" OR the idea of putting a small fondant anything in the middle of their cupcakes (Crave Cupcakes, anyone?) *sigh* Sprinkles...just let us enjoy cupcakes. You're already a bajillion dollar company...let the rest of us just.eat.cupcakes.

  • PChristensenGallery

    PChristensenGallery said 10 years ago

    Definately a frivolous lawsuit. Much more important & constructive things to focus precious time and energy upon...

  • LucilleandCecilia

    LucilleandCecilia said 10 years ago

    I'll be interested to hear how the lawsuit turns out. I've had the Sprinkles cupcakes and they're pretty good. I think that they're worried that concentric circles are such a natural fit for a cupcake decoration (it being circular and all) that everyone will start to make cupcakes like that. But I have to say, if they really are suing all over the place, that makes me lose respect for them. Aren't cupcakes supposed to be fun? If your recipe outshines everyone else's, what do you have to worry about?

  • PaintedHorse

    PaintedHorse said 10 years ago

    Very interesting article... I want a cupcake and I want it NOW! ":^) I do not see the similarity at all - I think the lawsuit should be dropped, but for heaven's sake, don't drop the cupcakes!

  • MadMaggieDesigns

    MadMaggieDesigns said 10 years ago

    Interesting article.......now I just want cupcakes though! Thanks!

  • CloudNineCA

    CloudNineCA said 10 years ago

    i agree, it looks a lot like target's logo, too. this one's a little broad. and yes, cupcakes. me. now. mmmmmmmmmm...

  • teelady

    teelady said 10 years ago

    Oh the websites don't look alike at all to me. I don't get it. It was like Donald Trump trying to tm the word Your fired wasn't done. Oh well I guess people have to have something to complain about. Happy New Year everyone have an etsy day.

  • starttounlearn

    starttounlearn said 10 years ago

    I think they each have their own funky, fun feel. Art is art and sometimes we are going to step on each other's toes, hopefully not intentionally. So many things have not only been done but also said before. The beauty of etsy is how it encourages the original and spotlights all out own personal takes on things. But I guess sometimes people do get territorial, especialy about cupcakes ;-)

  • ohmywonderful

    ohmywonderful said 10 years ago

    just because the logos are both round doesn't mean the idea was stolen. eat cupcakes and be merry!

  • lillyshaystyle

    lillyshaystyle said 10 years ago

    It just comes down to greetiness, I think. Who cares about a circle anyway? Whichever is the yummiest will win in the end.

  • lillyshaystyle

    lillyshaystyle said 10 years ago

    Oop! I just realized how late I was to post something here!

  • VinesandThings

    VinesandThings said 10 years ago

    theirs nothing wrong with wanting to protect all your hard work and all the time you'd invested .and artist to artist we should at all times respect others ,their hard work,their time invested,and their ideas,and their passion they have in what they do!and sorry ,if you're not trying to steal someone's idea and hard work and all the time they have invested ,you wouldn't have a problem straightening it out with the other person!!!!!!!

  • AutumnUK

    AutumnUK said 10 years ago

    If I came up with a circle inside a circle, all on my own, could someone say I stole the idea? Can I copyright a circle?

  • mamaslittlemonkeys

    mamaslittlemonkeys said 10 years ago

    I want to trademark and copyright and patent breathing. You all owe me a gazillion million dollars.... :)

  • ferosferio

    ferosferio said 10 years ago

    I don't think I would confuse one company with the other. Their styles are quite different. shrug.

  • rocksntwigs

    rocksntwigs said 10 years ago

    so who own the copyright on the candy bars, thy all have swirls to tell the difference of the flavors, ie see's mars etc cany anyone

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