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Judge Lets Argentine Firm Make Bazooka Gum

September 05, 2006|From the Associated Press

NEW YORK — In a bid to resolve a sticky mess, a judge has decided that an Argentine company can continue making its sweet-tasting Bazooka gum even though its relationship with Topps Co., which made the brand famous, has long since soured.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. described not just the decades-long history of the companies but also the millenniums-old history of gum, stretching back to when the ancient Greeks chewed on a substance made from the resin of the mastic tree.

"This case is a tale of two companies, once friends and collaborators, now enemies and scorched-earth litigators; and of chewing gum," Haight wrote in a ruling Thursday.

When Topps allowed Productos Stani Sociedad Anonima Industrial y Commercial to buy the Argentine rights to trademarks including Bazooka and Topps, it also allowed the company to continue using its secret chewing gum formulas after the various contracts expired in 1996, Haight said.

Topps argued in 1999 that Productos Stani had the rights only to the names, not to the technology used to make the products, but Haight said that argument "runs counter to the law of trademark.... A trademark is merely a symbol of goodwill and cannot be sold or assigned apart from the goodwill it symbolizes."

Messages left with lawyers in the case were not returned Monday.

Haight wrote that New York-based Topps and the Argentine company were friendly when they were each family-owned, before Topps became publicly held in 1987.

Productos Stani has since been purchased by British candy and beverage giant Cadbury Schweppes.

Haight said any use by Productos Stani of Topps' technology after 1996 did not break any contract between the two companies.

The ruling appears to have given Productos Stani a bigger court victory than it asked for, because it maintained that it had not made any use of protected Topps technology since 1996.

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