The Hershey Company is accusing a state senator from Queen Anne's County of using chocolate-colored campaign signs to draw on its sugary "fame and equity" in a bid to drum up votes.
In a federal lawsuit filed last week, the Pennsylvania-based confectioner asked a judge to stop Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. from using campaign materials that it believes are too similar to its own logo and packaging.
"Hershey is bringing this action to stop Senator Steve Hershey and his campaign from using the famous trade dress of the Hershey's chocolate bar in connection with Senator Hershey's campaign activities," the company wrote in a complaint.
The senator's name, in block capital letters over a brown Maryland flag, looks strikingly similar to the wrapper of a certain confection, the chocolate maker says — an impermissible use of what it calls its "trade dress."
Hershey, a former delegate who was appointed to the Senate last year to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Sen. E. J. Pipkin, said in a statement that he was confident the court would rule in his favor.
"The Hershey Company's allegations raise serious questions about infringing on my constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and participation as a candidate in the political process," he added.
The company alleges that Hershey's use of the logo will confuse people and lead them to believe that it supports the senator's campaign. It also argues that the senator had gone back on a previous agreement over the campaign materials.
"Hershey has tried to resolve this matter outside of court and Senator Hershey even promised that he would cease use of the Hershey's trade dress, yet Senator Hershey continues to use the famous Hershey's trade dress to promote his campaign," the company's lawyer wrote.
The dispute goes back to 2002, according to the company, when Hershey was running for commissioner in Queen Anne's County.
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For a while, the lawsuit says, Hershey stopped using the logo, but when he ran for delegate in 2010 he trotted out the design again. After an agreement between the two sides secured a brief peace, the squabbling continued.
In April, the senator wrote a letter to the company letting it know that he was starting a new campaign and planned to use a logo featuring his name in a widely available typeface over a two-tone brown Maryland flag.
"I feel strongly that this new design logo which uses my surname in a common font while tying in a Maryland flag scheme is a fair compromise," Hershey wrote, according to the letter attached to the lawsuit.
But the Hershey Company's lawyers wrote that they disagree.
"It is apparent that the overall resulting design is a confusingly similar knockoff of, and unlawful colorable imitation of, the famous and iconic Hershey Trade Dress," their filing said.