CENTREVILLE — The Hershey Company has filed suit against Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Queen Anne’s, saying he’s infringing on the popular chocolate corporation’s trademarked logo design.
The federal lawsuit, filed Friday, June 6, in Maryland, alleges Sen. Hershey is unlawfully using campaign materials “in a manner that falsely indicates to consumers that Hershey has sponsored, endorsed, authorized or otherwise is associated” with the politician, according to the complaint.
The company describes the logos as “confusingly similar to, and a colorable imitation” of the Hershey chocolate bar design. The chocolate company’s design uses a dark brown background it calls “Hershey maroon” and silver or other light-colored block text in capital letters reading “Hershey’s” in the center.
Sen. Hershey’s campaign signs use a similar block text reading “Hershey” for his name printed on a lighter, two-toned brown background in the pattern of the Maryland flag.
Underneath Sen. Hershey’s name on the campaign signs, it says “state senate” where the chocolate company’s packaging would read “milk chocolate” or “syrup” and other product variations.
Sen. Hershey said in a statement that the actions of his campaign are a “lawful exercise of my constitutional rights.”
“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 in a non-commercial venue,” Sen. Hershey said in a statement.
The Hershey Company is also seeking restitution for any harm caused to the company by the use of the campaign signs, but Sen. Hershey refutes there was any harm done.
“Without the provocation of my opponent, I doubt Hershey’s would view my Senate campaign as a threat to their $7 billion a year business,” Sen. Hershey said. “This is a classic David versus Goliath story.”
Sen. Hershey is running for re-election of his Senate District 36 seat. He is running against former District 36 Delegate Dick Sossi in the Republican primary.
However, Sossi said he had nothing to do with the complaint to The Hershey Company that spurred the recent lawsuit.
Though the suit was recently filed, the company said it has repeatedly asked Hershey to stop using campaign materials that resemble its famous chocolate bar design.
The candy company is calling for Hershey to stop using the logo design with his name in block letters on a brown or maroon background and to remove it from all forms of media.
The company’s complaint originally surfaced in 2002, when Hershey was then running for Queen Anne’s County Commission. According to the complaint, the company sent Hershey a letter to cease and desist use of a similar logo. The company wrote in the complaint that Hershey agreed to stop using the design, and he did after the county commission election.
Later, in 2010, Hershey is alleged to use a similar design again, but this time in his campaign for state Delegate. The Hershey Company again asked Hershey to stop using a similar logo, “which the defendants agreed to do,” according to the complaint.
The Hershey Company stated it allowed the senator to use the logo for the remainder of the primary election in 2010, but that he had to stop using it afterward and change the design, particularly the font and its color and the background color.
No further action was taken after the 2010 agreement, according to the complaint.
Del. Hershey was appointed to the District 36 Senate seat after the resignation of E.J. Pipkin in 2013.
The chocolate company’s counsel wrote to the senator in January 2014, objecting to his use of his current campaign logo, cautioning that if he continued to use it, the company would consider legal action.
According to the complaint, Sen. Hershey responded via email in April, highlighting his new campaign logo with the light-brown Maryland flag background. Sen. Hershey also claims the font is not the company’s trademarked font, as it’s available from Microsoft Word, according to the complaint.
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