National Pork Board targets ThinkGeek Web site: Blame the unicorns

By Dan Eggen
Tuesday, June 22, 2010; 3:27 PM

If you ever wonder what kind of work the lawyers for powerful industry groups get paid good money for, consider the case of the National Pork Board v. ThinkGeek Inc.

Lawyers representing the board, based in Des Moines, Iowa, sent a detailed "cease-and-desist" letter to the Fairfax-based ThinkGeek Web site last month over its use of the well-known trademark "The Other White Meat."

There's just one problem: The meat in question comes from unicorns.

Let's let the lawyers from Faegre & Benson explain: "We are writing you in connection with your activities at the Web site, wherein you have been marketing a product called 'Radiant Farms Canned Unicorn Meat' using the slogan 'Unicorn -- the new white meat.' A copy of the Web site page is attached for your reference."

It goes on like that for 12 pages. The dry, legal response to an obvious joke has set off an Internet-wide case of the giggles, especially at the Web site targeted by the letter. The offending item was a prank "product launch" posted on April Fool's Day, complete with a picture of very unappealing, but fictional, canned meat.

"It was never our intention to cause a national crisis and misguide American citizens regarding the differences between the pig and the unicorn," deadpanned Scott Kauffman, president and chief executive of Geeknet, the site's parent company. "In fact, ThinkGeek's canned unicorn meat is sparkly, a bit red and not approved by any government entity."

Pork Board spokeswoman Ceci Snyder said the board's attorneys are instructed to protect the "Other White Meat" trademark in all cases to avoid future legal challenges to the slogan.

"Clearly there's some fun being had, and we can laugh, too," Snyder said. "But in the end they're just following the law."

The board -- whose members are appointed by the secretary of agriculture -- administers a fee levied on pork imports and production for the good of the industry. The organization often works closely with the National Pork Producers Council, the industry's main lobbying group.

The Pork Board has been down this road before: In 2007, it came under attack for sending a similar letter to a breastfeeding Web site that was marketing T-shirts with the slogan "The Other White Milk."

ThinkGeek says it's confident that its use of the slogan is protected as parody by fair-use laws. Either that, or by the unicorns.

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