WASHINGTON - Tony the Tiger has been selling breakfast cereal for Kellogg for almost a half-century. Yesterday, the Supreme Court set the stage for Kellogg to try to keep another cartoon tiger - Exxon Mobil's - from marketing in Tony's territory.
Without comment, the justices turned aside an appeal by Exxon Mobil Corp., which sought to head off a federal trial over a trademark infringement claim by Kellogg Co., creator of Tony the Tiger.
The oil company has been using a tiger symbol since 1959, seven years after Tony began marketing Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. Kellogg did not mind so long as the Exxon tiger was selling only gasoline and oil.
But now that "Tiger Mart" convenience stores at Exxon gas stations are selling food and drinks, too, Kellogg objects.
Beginning in the early 1990s, the Exxon tiger has appeared as a symbol at the mini-stores, helping to sell pizza, potato chips, doughnuts and soft drinks. The tiger is also used as a marketing symbol for Exxon's own beverage, Wild Tiger, and coffee, Bengal Traders.
Any use of the Exxon tiger to promote food products, Kellogg contends, confuses the public about whose products the tiger represents, and such use infringes on Kellogg's Tony trademark.
With the Supreme Court's action yesterday, the Kellogg infringement claim now goes to trial in a federal court in Tennessee. The high court let stand a ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that Exxon Mobil could not block the trial by claiming Kellogg waited too long to object to Exxon's tiger.