Ezaki Glico is a Japanese confectionery company founded in 1922. It is best known for its flagship product, Pocky, which is a thin, chocolate-coated biscuit stick. Pocky has become a well-known brand in Asia, North America, and Europe, with variations on the product such as "Almond Crush" and "Cookies & Cream."
Lotte Confectionery is also a Japanese confectionery company and a subsidiary of South Korean multinational Lotte Corporation. Lotte Confectionery is best known for its Pepero product, which is a chocolate-filled biscuit stick similar to Pocky. Pepero was introduced in South Korea in 1983 and has since become popular in other Asian countries, including China, Vietnam, and Thailand.
In 2015, Ezaki Glico filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Lotte International America Corp., alleging that Lotte's packaging of its chocolate-filled biscuit product, called "Pepero," infringed on Glico's trademark for its own similar product, "Pocky." Glico claimed that the packaging and appearance of Pepero, including its long, thin shape, distinctive red and white packaging, and graphics featuring a cartoon character, were confusingly similar to its own Pocky product.
The lawsuit sought an injunction to stop Lotte from selling Pepero in the United States, as well as damages for lost profits and other costs associated with the alleged infringement. In response, Lotte denied the allegations of infringement and argued that its Pepero product had significant differences from Pocky, including a different recipe, taste, and texture.
In 2017, a jury in the United States District Court for the Central District of California found that Lotte's packaging of its Pepero product infringed on Glico's trademark for Pocky. Lotte appealed the decision, arguing that its Pepero product had significant differences from Pocky, including a different recipe, taste, and texture. However, in 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the jury's verdict and rejected Lotte's arguments. As a result of the verdict, Lotte was ordered to pay $2.8 million in damages to Ezaki Glico and was also prohibited from selling Pepero in the United States using the allegedly infringing packaging.
This case highlights the importance of trademark protection in the food industry, where branding and packaging can play a significant role in consumer decision-making. In this case, Ezaki Glico's Pocky product had become so well-known and recognizable that its packaging had become synonymous with the product itself. Lotte's alleged use of similar packaging for its Pepero product was therefore seen as potentially confusing for consumers, and could have led to a loss of business for Glico.
The dispute also demonstrates the potential risks of creating packaging and branding that is confusingly similar to a competitor's product. In today's highly competitive marketplace, companies need to be careful not to infringe on the intellectual property rights of others, as doing so can lead to costly legal battles and damage to their reputation.