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A trademark case waged between the first black-owned business to be listed on New York Stock Exchange and the country's largest meat processor could come down to the meaning of an apostrophe.

Parks "Famous Flavor," a Pennsylvania-based company, is suing Tyson Foods over the company's Ball Park "Park's Finest" premium franks.

In its complaint, Parks said Tyson is pitching "Parks Finest" franks in some of its advertising. Tyson was sure to add back the apostrophe throughout its response.

Uche Ewelukwa, a law professor and intellectual property expert at the University of Arkansas, said the case is unlikely be easily dismissed on summary judgment.

"I don't think their case is frivolous," she said. "However, I'm not sure if they can prove all of the material facts."

Parks' lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

According to court documents, Henry G. Parks founded Parks LLC in Baltimore in 1950. Business was booming and by 1969, Parks became the first black-owned business to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

But when Henry G. Parks died in 1989, business declined. Parks LLC went bankrupt in 1995.

Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell, two professional football players who had once both played for Joe Paterno at Pennsylvania State University, bought the business in 1996.

The pair were business partners at Super Bakery Inc. The company specializes in the Super Donut, a doughnut fortified with vitamins and minerals that's marketed to schoolchildren.

"Harris and Mitchell soon learned that the manufacture and marketing of processed meat products in the United States was a highly specialized field that required skills and resources that they did not yet possess," according to court documents.

Parks entered in to a license agreement with Dietz & Watson, a meat processor. The arrangement continues today, according to court documents.

Dietz & Watson did not respond to a request seeking comment.

The Parks brand, which is shown with blue lettering below a yellow sun, appears on processed meats in some supermarkets and is used to sell sandwiches and other products to the military, according to Parks' complaint.

Parks says the products could be confused with Tyson's "Park's Finest" products, which are branded in block lettering with the Ball Park logo in the middle.

Parks does not have a website and Parks branded products are not advertised on the Super Bakery or Dietz & Watson websites.

Ewelukwa said Parks' case mainly depends on its lawyers proving that "Park's Finest" infringes on its trademark or dilutes the brand's meaning.

She said dilution would be harder to show, since Parks would have to prove its branding is nationally famous.

"Niche fame will not do," she said. "Fame in Pennsylvania will not do."

The company would have to show that consumers are confused between the Ball Park and Parks products to show infringement.

Parks has asked the judge to halt the sale of "Park's Finest" products nationally. Tyson has until Monday to oppose the motion.

In a letter sent Thursday to Joseph F. Leeson, Jr., the judge presiding over the case, Tyson asked for more time.

"The plaintiff waited until the beginning of the grilling season to file this motion," said John J. Dabney, a lawyer representing Tyson. "A preliminary injunction would be financially disastrous and irreparably injure Defendants' famous BALL PARK brand, which is among the very best-selling hot dog brands, if not the best-selling hot dog brand, in the United States."

Leeson denied the motion.

According to court documents, Tyson is asking the judge to dismiss the complaint and recover attorneys' fees.

Among other defenses, Tyson claims that Parks abandoned its trademark, according to court documents.

"The plaintiffs chose not to renew Parks as a trademark when it expired two years ago," said Dan Fogleman, a spokesman for Tyson.

Fogleman said Tyson launched the "Park's Finest" line of Ball Park franks in 2014.

"Our use of our product name doesn't infringe on the plaintiff's alleged rights and is not confusing to customers," he said. "In fact, if you look at the packaging, the Ball Park logo is front and center."

Business on 04/11/2015

Print Headline: Left out apostrophe tangles Tyson in trademark case

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