The folks at Quaker Oats are very fond of their brand. On their website, they proudly claim the "Quaker Man" mascot, registered in 1877, was the first-ever registered trademark for a breakfast product. Inside the Quaker Oats Company, he's known affectionately as "Larry" (though evidence suggests he's based on William Penn), and the cartoon Quaker even underwent a makeover recently to keep him "fresh and innovative" for younger consumers.
Despite using the Quaker name and logo because it is a "symbol of good quality and honest value," the Quaker Oats Company has never had any official ties with the Religious Society of Friends (a.k.a. Quakers). While this has proven to be mildly frustrating for some in the religious group, the peace-loving Quakers aren't a litigious bunch (early American Quakers in Pennsylvania were warned against settling disputes in courts), and they have gone about their lives without lodging any official legal complaints against the company (which is now owned by PepsiCo).
The massive oatmeal conglomerate that uses the Quakers' name, however, has not been hesitant to threaten legal action, as evidenced by the following exchange between Quaker Oats' counsel and a member of the Orange County Religious Society of Friends. The lawyer's complaint was meant to scare the group from using the company's cherished legal trademark, a tactic that would have proven more effective if it weren't wholly based on a reading mistake.
The response, which is published on the Southern California group's website under the headline "Quaker Oats threatens to sue us," is a great lesson on how to smoothly brush off an overzealous, "amicable" request with hilarious verve:
Dear Mr. William Lovett: I am the attorney at the Quaker Oats Company responsible for trademark matters. As you probably know, our company manufactures numerous food products, the most famous of which is oatmeal. In addition to having used the Quaker Oats name as our company name for close to 100 years, we have registered the Quaker name as a trademark. It was therefore quite a surprise to discover that you are operating a business under the name "Quaker Oats Christmas Tree Farm." Your use of our trademark is likely to mislead consumers into believing that your business is associated with the Quaker Oats Company. It is also likely to weaken our very strong trademark. In light of the foregoing, we hereby demand that you immediately stop all use of the "Quaker Oats" name … While we would like to settle this matter amicably, we will take all steps which are necessary and appropriate to protect our name. Sincerely Janet L. Silverberg, counsel
Dear Janet Silverberg: My breakfast this morning—rolled oats by the way—was interrupted by the arrival of your letter via FedEx, which was delivered to us despite the fact that you have misspelled our company name which is Quaker OAKS Christmas Tree Farm. Our farm was so named because religious services were held outdoors on this farm under a great oak tree until about ten years ago when we were able to move into our new Meetinghouse on another corner of our farm. Our business is 100% owned and operated by Quakers. I suspect that your firm employs considerably fewer, if any, Quakers. We trace our Quaker ancestors back 320 years and they were mostly farmers, but I don’t know how many of them grew oats for your company. My guess is that you may be selling far more Lutheran oats, Methodist oats, or maybe atheist oats. Could your company be guilty of product source misrepresentation? We don’t know why you choose to associate your commercial products with our faith, but we supposed you feel there is some marketing value from it. If you were selling machine guns, roulette wheels or some other product offensive to our Quaker faith, we would be upset by the association, but since we find your products wholesome and enjoyable, we consider your use of our name a compliment. We invite you to visit our farm to verify that we are indeed Quaker Oaks Christmas Tree Farm. If you come in December, we’d be happy to sell you a tree! Sincerely, William Lovett, Visalia, California
We reached out to the Quaker Oats Company about the veracity of this exchange. "This letter predates me," their representative said in an email, "but from what I can gather the letter is nearly 15 years old."
[h/t: Steve Silberman]