Scandinavian Ice Cream
Not only has Häagen-Dazs always been an American brand, but it turns out that Häagen and Dazs aren’t even real Danish words—Polish immigrants Reuben and Rose Mattus founded the company in the Bronx in 1960 by putting some random letters together that sounded vaguely Scandinavian.
The twist: They tried to sue someone else for doing the exact same thing. In 1980, the Mattus couple took Richard Smith to court when he began selling his own ice cream under the name Frusen Glädjé, which means “frozen joy” in Swedish. The lawsuit alleged that Frusen Glädjé had stolen several of the Mattuses’ ideas, including (a) pretending to be European, (b) using a map of Scandinavia in its advertising, and (c) including serving directions on the package. Ultimately, the court decided to rule against Häagen-Dazs on the grounds of “unclean hands”—a bit of legalese that essentially means “Seriously? You’re asking the government to protect your right to lie to consumers?”
The Top Ten List
Upon David Letterman’s move to CBS, NBC claimed ownership of material that was considered a cornerstone of Letterman’s shows, like Top Ten Lists and Stupid Pet Tricks.
Ultimately, NBC got mauled by the court of public opinion before it even managed to take legal action. Letterman joked that The Late Show was going to be called The Stolen Intellectual Property Show. Jay Leno joked that Letterman wasn’t allowed to use the letters N, B, or C or the name Letterman on the air. Audiences got a kick out of it all. In any case, Letterman changed the title of the Top Ten List bit to Late Show Top Ten and kept doing the exact same thing he’d been doing.
The Name Spike
The Nashville Network started out as a country music cable channel that you probably don’t remember. That’s because it changed its name to the more masculine-sounding Spike TV. Upon hearing of the new network (and not wanting to be associated with it), film director Spike Lee filed suit. Lee did win a temporary injunction against the network, shortly before everyone realized that it was frivolous to claim a trademark on a nickname as generic as Spike. The result: The case was settled out of court, and Lee was not forced to change his name back to Shelton.