A recent intellectual property case filed in the states of Florida and Arizona highlights the additional challenges within this arena when it comes to the protection of brand identity — and the guardrails within brand identity that are so easily blurred. While the long saga related to Traeger Grills, its founding family and market competitor Danson has existed for decades, Traeger Grills officially filed a complaint in July 2019.  

In the case of Oregon-based Traeger Grills, the company is taking its namesake founder, Joe Traeger, along with his employer and key competitor, Dansons, to court. Traeger Grills is claiming Joe Traeger has violated intellectual property assets relative to the brand — including iconic branding images and specific design characteristics unique to specific names, likenesses, and even reputation.

In 1985, Joe Treager began working on his wood-pellet burning barbecue grill concept when his Fourth of July celebrations quickly came to an end when his traditional barbecue grill caught on fire. By 1988, Traeger Grills was incepted, and its first commercial grill was sold — featuring Joe’s Traeger’s proprietary design that included a heating element and gauges that enabled the user to regulate heat and smoke while they cook.

Almost 20 years later, and after tremendous company success, the Traeger family sold the company in 2006. The sale included the transfer of the company’s intellectual property rights — including the names and likenesses of Joe, Brian, Mark and Randy Traeger — for an additional $9 million over the sale price.

Another decade would pass before Joe Traeger visited one of Traeger Grill’s competitors in the wood-pellet burning barbecue space — Dansons. It wasn’t long after that visit that Joe Traeger started working for Dansons — as part of the company’s Product Development team, and his photo and name began appearing in Dansons’ marketing materials. Today, Dansons is one of the fastest growing pellet grill companies in the barbecue grill industry.

On July 16, Traeger Pellet Grills filed a lawsuit, alleging the Traegers were selling their brand and likeness for a second time — and that Dansons had leveraged the Traeger’s likeness in a multiyear campaign, resulting in customer confusion and loss of business for Traeger Grills. Traeger Grills is also citing Dansons for “improper conduct and unfair competition” for using the Traeger family members in promoting the company’s Pit Boss and Louisiana Grills products.

The complaint details the extent to which Traeger Grills claims Dansons infringed on the brand — citing marketing strategy, content, trade dress and product-specific infringements. The lawsuit seeks to mitigate any further “illegal conduct and to recover the resulting damages Traeger Grills has suffered as well as the attorney’s fees it has been forced to incur.”

In a statement released by Dansons, the company communicated their plans to fight the lawsuit and vehemently denies all claims made by Traeger LLC.

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