Recently, Partner, Katie Rubino, and Litigation Team Member, Tanner Murphy, were quoted in a Fast Company article about the possibility of trademarking the shape of lettuce. Little Leaf Farms submitted a trademark application for the distinct curvy shape of their Baby Crispy Green Leaf lettuce.

Trademarking a logo or a brand name is nothing new, but when it comes to trademarking the natural form of produce, it’s an entirely different ball game. Little Leaf’s trademarking application has raised eyebrows and sparked debate among legal experts, farming enthusiasts, and curious consumers alike. So, why would a farming company embark on such an unconventional journey?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand the innovation and craftsmanship that goes into Little Leaf Farms’ Baby Crispy Green Leaf lettuce. This delightful leafy green, adorned with its mesmerizing curls and ruffled edges, has captured the attention of salad lovers everywhere. Little Leaf Farms has worked diligently to cultivate this unique variety.

By filing for a trademark on the shape of their lettuce, Little Leaf Farms aims to protect their hard-earned reputation and the distinctiveness of their product. Trademarks serve as a way to safeguard against potential imitators seeking to capitalize on the success and popularity of a particular brand. In this case, the shape of the lettuce has become synonymous with the quality and freshness that Little Leaf Farms prides itself on delivering.

While some argue that trademarking a vegetable shape is an overreach, others see it as a logical step to preserve the integrity of Little Leaf Farms’ brand identity. After all, we live in a world where companies go to great lengths to secure intellectual property rights over their unique creations, from the shape of chocolate bars to the sound of opening a soda can. However, the road to obtaining a trademark for a natural shape is not without its challenges. Traditionally, trademark law has primarily focused on protecting distinctive symbols, logos, and names. Recognizing the complexity of the issue, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will need to carefully evaluate Little Leaf Farms’ application and weigh the potential implications it may have on the broader agricultural industry. If the shape of the lettuce is functional, the trademark office will deny the application.

The shape of a product is considered functional if the shape is essential to the use or purpose of the product

Partner, Katie Rubino

Beyond the legal intricacies, this bold move by Little Leaf Farms opens up fascinating discussions about the evolving relationship between nature and commerce: “If Little Leaf can show that the shape of its lettuce is distinct, it’s certainly plausible that it can successfully obtain a mark for its signature lettuce”, says Tanner Murphy. As human creativity and ingenuity continue to push boundaries, we find ourselves contemplating the extent to which we can claim ownership over aspects of the natural world.

If Little Leaf can show that the shape of its lettuce is distinct, it’s certainly plausible that it can successfully obtain a mark for its signature lettuce

Associate, Tanner Murphy

So, the question remains: Should a farming company be granted a trademark for the shape of a vegetable? Is it a justified measure to protect their brand and product, or does it encroach upon the fundamental principles of nature’s creations? As this intriguing case unfolds, it will undoubtedly shape the future of trademark law and provide us with insights into the delicate balance between innovation, protection, and the ever-evolving world of agriculture. Stay tuned!

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Katie Rubino is a partner and director of the Life Sciences Practice Group at Caldwell. She is dually qualified as a U.S. patent attorney and a solicitor in England and Wales.

Tanner Murphy is an associate within the firm’s Boston office.

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