Ben & Jerry’s moves to thwart knock-offs of its ice cream in West Bank
The owner of Ben & Jerry’s is angling to block an Israeli ice-cream distributor from knocking off its brand in the West Bank — the latest back-and-forth since the company’s controversial move last month to withdraw from the region, The Post has learned.
London-based Unilever — whose Ben & Jerry’s subsidiary announced on July 19 it would stop selling ice cream in “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” saying it’s “inconsistent with our values” — is now threatening legal action against a group that said it plans to roll out “Judea and Samaria’s Ben & Jerry’s” ice cream to the West Bank.
A legal gambit to move in on the Chunky Monkey maker’s business was devised by the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, a Zionist advocacy group that claimed Ben & Jerry’s plan to stop selling ice cream in the region amounted to “abandonment” of its trademark there.
Proposed packaging for the ersatz frozen snacks includes the familiar Ben & Jerry’s logo, with the same cow grazing in a pasture under a blue, cloud-dotted sky. It also, however, prominently features a portrait of Theodor Herzl, the bushy-bearded founder of the modern Zionist movement, with the slogan “Frozen Chosen People.”
A legal group is fighting to introduce a Ben & Jerry’s copycat product in the West Bank.The Shurat HaDin Law Center
“Your allegation that Unilever has in any manner abandoned its trademark rights for Ben & Jerry’s is flawed on multiple grounds,” Unilever’s general counsel, Natalia Cavaliere, wrote in an Aug. 12 letter to the legal advocacy group, a copy of which was obtained by The Post.
“Ben & Jerry’s intends to continue to distribute and sell its products in all of Israel, except for the small geographic region of the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” the letter added, noting that Unliever considers any use of its trade name a “violation of our intellectual property rights.”
In response, Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center president Nitsana Darshan-Leitner told The Post, “We hope to have the opportunity to square off against them in a courtroom,” insisting that her organization intends to “seize their trademarks and utilize their name and manufacture our own ice cream in every Israeli region they have withdrawn from.”
The Israeli government recently denied a copycat Ben & Jerry’s trademark saying the registration already exists in Israel.UPI
The Law Center said it had registered the name “Judea and Samaria’s Ben & Jerry’s” with the Israeli government’s Registry of Corporations. But the agency denied its application on the grounds that there is an “existing registered trademark of Ben and Jerry’s in Israel and therefore it is restrained from registering a new company under that name,” Darshan-Leitner told The Post in an email. The Law Center plans to appeal the decision, she said.
Unilever, which bought the quirky brand in 2000, has been forced to defend its policies despite the intense global backlash, which has included threats by the Israeli Prime Minister and by US legislators.
In a New York Times op-ed on July 28, the iconic ice-cream entrepreneurs Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield defended the company’s move, writing, “In our view, ending the sales of ice cream in the occupied territories is one of the most important decisions the company has made in its 43-year history … Even though it undoubtedly knew that the response would be swift and powerful, Ben & Jerry’s took the step to align its business and operations with its progressive values.”
Unilever bought the popular Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company in 2000.Getty Images
Trademark experts told The Post that at least on legal ground Unilever appears to be on solid footing with its trademark in Israel.
“You don’t have to use the mark in every town and region to be covered by a trademark,” intellectual property attorney, Brad D. Rose of Pryor Cashman LLP told The Post. “It doesn’t mean that [Unilever’s] trademark is exposed because it isn’t selling in one region.”