Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rest In Pez

Just when you thought it was safe to eat your peppermints, world pez has been disturbed once again. Men cry "Pez, pez, but there is no pez, only wars and rumors of war." And where are these pez-destroying warriors to be found? One side is headquartered in Vienna, Austria, the other in Burlingame, California.

Let's take a look at the combatants. The Austrian aggressors have launched their early missiles from the land of wienerschnitzel mit salat. The sneak attack originated at their top-secret base in the misleadingly bucolic city of Linz. The first bomb dropped on the unprepared California memorabiliasts last week like a peppermint bunker-buster. Nary a yodel to warn the victims of the impending attack. The Pez Candy Company had determined that the Dangerous Doss family in the suburbs of San Francisco were attempting to destroy the Pez empire's holdings in the United States. At least unlike the Germans in 1930s Berlin, the Austrian's didn't burn down the Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna so they could blame it on the Doss family as their excuse to commit pezicide.

The Pez-Doss conflict has its historical parallels. Think carefully of the preemptive attack by Germany on Poland when Poland plotted the violent overthrow of the Third Reich. Those sneaky Poles were just like the perfidious Doss family. The arrogant Doss people kicked it all into motion back in 1995. They opened a Pez museum, cleverly-disguised as a computer store. Gary and Nancy Doss, owners of their upstart startup had been lifelong Pez candy dispenser collectors. Their initial inventory was rather limited, so they deceitfully used their complete Pez dispenser collection to dress up the store windows. They knew plastic Mickeys and Donalds that spit out candy were a bit more eye-catching than slightly shopworn Commodore 64s and Ataris.

The Doss family had been secretly hoarding all the Pez dispensers ever made, thereby stealing the state-of-the-art blood, toil, sweat and tears that the Austrians had poured into manufacturing characters with no feet and a gut full of peppermint pills. To give you an idea what an insidious plan the Doss family had come up with for stabbing Pez in the back, Gary Doss in 2005 added the only dispenser he didn't have until then--the Pineapple Pez worth $3,500. He had already cornered the market on the most valuable of all: The Make-A-Face Mr. Potato Head dispenser, worth over $5,000 (although there is an unverified rumor that a Mickey Mouse soft-head dispenser went for as much as $7,000).

Drunk with power, the Doss family abandoned all pretense of running a computer store, and turned the shop openly and brazenly into a Pez museum for collectors and curiosity-seekers. Still, the Austrians were unaware of the attack on their hegemony until the pushy Doss family went one step too far. They built (or had built for them, it's not entirely clear) a huge Pez dispenser. It is 7 feet 10 inches tall, and stands at the entrance to their Museum of Pez Memorabilia. Fortunately for the Doss enterprise, by this time Pez had put feet on their dispensers, which the Dosses appropriated to their own use in creating their giant gate guardian (snowman Pez dispenser with Doss partisan pictured above). And then, the plan was revealed! Too much fame brings unwanted attention. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized the Doss dispenser as the largest Pez dispenser in the world.

The Pez Candy Company has a major factory in Orange, Connecticut. After sending spies who didn't need Austrian passports into California to view the completely public Doss armaments factory, Pez filed suit in federal court for patent infringement and money damages equal to the entire income of the Doss family for the full fourteen years that the "museum/shrine" has been open. They also want Pezzy the Snowman turned into a large plastic puddle. The attorney for the Doss family said "From a branding perspective, I think Pez should embrace the Dosses and the museum instead of trying to attack them." (Roger Cole of Fenwick & West LLP in Mountain View, California) There has thus far been no response from the Pez attorneys.

I'm no patent expert by any means, but it does seem to me that the Doss family may have impinged on Pez's rights. Yet this sounds a lot like using an elephant gun to kill a gnat, or a blitzkrieg to take out a kindergarten. Jeez, guys, did you ever write a nice letter to the Doss family asking them to work with you on getting some sort of joint venture going out of this? We need to get the legal profession to adopt the philosophical approach: Just because you can sue, it doesn't necessarily follow that you should. Have you ever heard the word "overkill?" Have you checked with your accountants and public relations people to find out how much the negative publicity is going to cost you in one day as compared to the entire Doss family's fourteen-year income?

With a little luck and some serious reevaluation by the Pez Candy Company, perhaps this can be worked out. President Obama could be the mediator since he constantly talks about world pez. He could be like Wilson at Versailles. Of course he would have to find a translator who speaks Austrian. Pez has already put out feelers to the Obama administration, and has stated emphatically that if they are allowed to take over the Doss operation, they will have no further territorial demands in Burlingame, California. In the event that Pez won't back off, I intend to form a standing anti-Pez group. Our rallying cry will be "Pez On You!" Still, we can always hope that the Obama negotiator will come back to tell us that he has brought us "pez for our time." I wonder if the Governator might be interested in the job? After all, he speaks Austrian.

17 comments:

CrisD said...

Delicious!

Pez out!

StanH said...

Patent infringement is serious business, but this is silly. As long as the Doss family doesn’t try to market or sell PEZ it would seem to me that there is no cause? It is my understanding that you can replicate a trademarked item for private use or even public viewing if you don’t bastardize the replication or try to profit from the Trademarked product (I’m sure there are exceptions.) Do they charge admission to the eh…hmmm… museum? I agree with you Lawhawk, a cease & desist letter would suffice, but hey …what’s a corporate lawyer to do?

Writer X said...

Why does the giant Pez dispenser look like that Taco Bell guy?

AndrewPrice said...

I didn't even know that anyone still made Pez. What a mess.

That said, this is becoming a bigger and bigger issue because of things like fan fiction.

CrispyRice said...

Mmmm, pez...

Trouble is, as I understand it, if Jimmy Buffet doesn't go after every single podunk bar that sells a "cheeseburger in paradise" then he risks losing all his rights to it, no? Wasn't there an issue with "xerox" almost losing its trademark because people used "to xerox" as a generic verb "to copy?"

LawHawkSF said...

CrisD: It's the pez that passeth all understanding.

StanH: The Dosses charge admission, but if it's only for historical purposes, the question of infringement is not entirely clear. But I also understand that they will sell items as well. They probably did cross the line, but this is overreaction on stilts.

LawHawkSF said...

WriterX: My first thought was Jack from Jack in the Box, but pez is in the eye of the beholder.

Andrew: When I saw the first article, I thought it was some kind of interesting historical sidenote. I had no idea they still existed. I'm headed out to the store right now to see if I can replace my Mighty Mouse Pez.

LawHawkSF said...

CrispyRice: It's even older than that. Kleenex went through it as well. It seems very likely that Pez has in some way had its name misused, but I'm with the Doss's lawyer. It seems there should have been a dozen ways that Pez could have handled this, including enhancing their name in a joint venture with the Doss family. Instead, they just come off as bullies.

Tennessee Jed said...

I'll confess I haven't seen (let alone dispensed) any PEZ for a long time. It may be telling (in a scary sort of way) that everyone commenting (including Lawhawk himself) seems to be so utterly familiar with PEZ. Does this possibly speak to impending geezerdom? I guess even if the answer is yes, I will embrace the notion with as much grace as I can muster in the era of Obama.

LawHawkSF said...

Tennessee: I sometimes amaze myself when I realize how geezerish I've become. I bought my first Pez dispenser at the same time I got my first portable transistor radio. They were both cutting-edge, high-tech for their time. There's a whole generation (or two) out there who have never heard of "transistor" radios, let alone Pez. Just throw the dirt over me, I'm finished.

AndrewPrice said...

Radio? What website is that from?

StanH said...

Overreaction on stilts, perfect. I to didn’t even know they had PEZ around any longer apparently yes, and they will defend their brand.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I don't know. I lost the number.

StanH: I actually did some research on Pez, and found out for the first time how they got the name: it's the first, middle, and last letter of the Austrian (I mean, German) word for peppermint--pfefferminz. So, by gum, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

patti said...

a beloved friend of mine died two years ago and whenever i am back in town i leave a new pez at his gravesite. pez was a running joke between us.

i'm headed back tomorrow and as a joke i bought the manly hello kitty pez to leave behind. that's what he gets for dying first.

Individualist said...

CrispyRice

You have to sue or lose your copyright.... so what you are saying is

"Speak now or forevr hold your Pez"

LawHawkSF said...

Individualist: I concede. You get the Nobel Pez Prize. LOL

CrispyRice said...

Har har har, Individualist! Very punny!

Post a Comment