Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Company is seeking to prevent parent company Unilever Plc from transferring intellectual property and branding to an Israeli company. The case is being heard at the federal Southern District Court of New York.
An injunction will restrict the marketing of the company's products in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which the ice cream maker said was against its values. However, US District Judge Andrew Carter claimed at the court hearing yesterday that he was unsure that Ben & Jerry's had shown it faced "imminent harm" following Unilever's sale of the intellectual property and branding to local licensee Avi Zinger.
Ben & Jerry's sued Unilever, which has owned the Burlington, Vermont-based company since 2000, on 5 July to try to stop the sale of its business in Israel to Zinger. Last year, the company said that it no longer wanted to sell its products in the occupied West Bank because it was "inconsistent" with its values. This prompted Unilever to strike a deal with Zinger to make the ice cream available to all consumers in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
Although the lawsuit also sought to stop the sale altogether, yesterday's hearing focused on whether Ben & Jerry's can sustain a temporary injunction barring Zinger from selling new or rebranded products using its English language trademarks.
The lawyer for the company, Shahmeer Halepota, said in court that Zinger could produce new products with the "exact opposite stance," causing consumer confusion. "Instead of Peace Pops, you could make 'Tank Pops'," said Halepota, and shoppers would see both when walking down a grocery store aisle.
Moreover, according to the Times of Israel, Ben & Jerry's lawyers argued in the hearing that "Ben & Jerry's Israel" could usurp the company's image by taking a new flavour and changing its branding. For example, Ben & Jerry's could make a flavour in support of Palestinians, and the Israel branch could then take the same flavour and brand it as pro-settlement, the lawyers argued. The company considers the branding surrounding its social mission and activism to be key to its business success.
The judge did not rule immediately but told Ben & Jerry's lawyer: "I don't hear anything saying that there is anything imminent. It doesn't seem… anything's going to happen in the next couple of weeks," Reuters reported. He did not say when he would issue his ruling.
Unilever has more than 400 brands, including Dove soap, Hellmann's mayonnaise, Knorr soup and Vaseline skin lotion.