Tyson wins lawsuit over Ball Park hot dogs

(Reuters) - This lawsuit over hot dogs failed to cut the mustard.

Fog shrouds the Tyson slaughterhouse in Burbank, Washington December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Ross Courtney

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit accusing Tyson Foods Inc TSN.N and its Hillshire Brands unit of infringing a trademark belonging to the maker of Parks' sausages when they used "Park's Finest" to describe a line of their Ball Park hot dogs.

In a decision late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Joseph Leeson in Allentown, Pennsylvania said the defendants’ use of “Park’s Finest” was unlikely to confuse a large number of consumers into thinking the plaintiff Parks LLC made them.

Parks is owned by Franco Harris, the Hall of Fame football running back from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Lydell Mitchell, a former star running back with the Baltimore Colts, who were also teammates at Pennsylvania State University.

It is known for a long-running radio and television ad campaign in which a boy pleads with his mother for “more Parks’ sausages Mom ... please.”

But the judge said Tyson and Hillshire chose the “Park’s Finest” name for their higher-end frankfurters, which were launched in 2014, “precisely because it functioned as a reference to their Ball Park brand.”

Leeson also said Parks located only a handful of people who thought it made the defendants’ hot dogs, while Tyson offered a survey in which only one of 200 people were confused.

“A reasonable trier of fact could not find that defendants’ use of the ‘Park’s Finest’ name on the packaging for their product or their advertisements has a tendency to deceive a substantial portion of their intended audience,” Leeson wrote.

Lawyers for Parks did not immediately respond to requests on Wednesday for comment.

Tyson welcomed the decision. “We understand the importance of intellectual property and take steps to protect our own,” spokesman Worth Sparkman said. “However, we did not infringe on any rights of the plaintiff or engage in false advertising.”

Parks was founded in Baltimore in 1950 as H.G. Parks Sausage Co, and is now based in Pittsburgh. Tyson is based in Springdale, Arkansas, and has a plant in New Holland, Pennsylvania, about 60 miles (97 km) southwest of Allentown.

The case is Parks LLC v Tyson Foods Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, No. 15-00946.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Alan Crosby