- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — In a bid to resolve a sticky mess, a judge has decided that an Argentine company can continue making its sweet-tasting Bazooka gum even though its relationship with the Topps Co. that made the brand famous has long since soured.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. described not just the decades-long history of the companies — family-owned friends that became corporate rivals — but also the millennia-old history of gum, stretching back to when the ancient Greeks chewed on a substance made from the resin of the mastic tree.

“This case is a tale of two companies, once friends and collaborators, now enemies and scorched-earth litigators; and of chewing gum,” Judge Haight wrote in a ruling issued Thursday.

When Topps allowed Productos Stani Sociedad Anonima Industrial Y Commercial to buy the Argentine rights to trademarks including Bazooka and Topps, it also allowed the company to continue using its secret chewing gum formulas after the various contracts expired in 1996, Judge Haight said.

Topps argued in 1999 that Productos Stani had the rights only to the names, not to the technology used to make the products, but Judge Haight said that “runs counter to the law of trademark.”

“A trademark is merely a symbol of goodwill and cannot be sold or assigned apart from the goodwill it symbolizes,” he added.

Messages left with attorneys in the case were not returned yesterday.

Judge Haight wrote that Topps and the Argentine companies were friendly when they were each family-owned, before Topps became publicly held in 1987. Productos Stani has since been purchased by British candy and beverage giant Cadbury Schweppes PLC.

The current dispute evolved after Topps permitted the Argentine company to make and sell its gum according to written agreements dating as far back as 1957, the judge said.

Productos Stani distributed Bazooka and other types of Topps chewing gum throughout Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, paying Topps a 3 percent license fee.

Judge Haight said any use by Productos Stani after 1996 of Topps’ technology did not break any contract between the two companies. The ruling appears to have given Productos Stani a bigger court victory than it had asked for, since it maintained that it has not made any use of protected Topps technology since 1996.

Judge Haight also touched on the modern history of gum, which began after several failed efforts by 19th-century inventor Thomas Adams to make toys, masks, rain boots and bicycle tires from chicle, made from Mexican sapodilla trees. He popped a piece into his mouth, liked the taste and opened the world’s first chewing-gum factory.

New York-based Topps, best known for its trading cards and gum, sells a variety of candy, collectible items and comic books and employs more than 400 people. London-based Cadbury Schweppes produces Cadbury candy, Schweppes, Dr Pepper and Snapple beverages, Trident and Dentyne gum, among other items, and employs about 60,000 people.

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