Hormel Foods Corporation, which owns the trademark for spiced ham food product SPAM, has failed in its attempt to register "spam" as an EU-wide trademark when used to designate unsolicited emails.
Hormel attempted to register "spam" as a trademark when used to refer to "services to avoid or suppress unsolicited emails", and the "creation and maintenance of computer software; technical consultancy, particularly in combination with network services; [and] providing of expertise, engineering services and technical consulting services [related to junk email]".
Hormel argued in an appeal to the Office of Harmonisation for the Internal Market (OHIM), the EU trademark body, that the general public would not immediately recognise the use of the word "spam" as pertaining to junk email, but would instead associate it with "a kind of spicy ham" food product.
OHIM disagreed, and dismissed the appeal. Products aimed at tackling the problem of spam were aimed at IT professionals who would not confuse junk email with the meat product, it maintained.
Also, a Google search returned more hits for "spam" junk email than for the canned meat, which satisfied OHIM that the word was also in use by the general public to refer to unsolicited mail.
"The most evident meaning of the term SPAM for the consumers of the services at issue will certainly be 'unsolicited usually commercial email sent to a large number of addressees' rather than a designation for canned spicy ham," said the OHIM ruling.
Hormel has made several attempts to wrest the name from generic use, including an advertising campaign in 2004, and attempts to invalidate the Spambuster name in the UK High Court in 2005. That court case also failed.