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Creators Of New Bae Spice Blend Sued By Old Bay

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now to a controversy in the world of seasonings - Old Bay is the spice mix from Maryland that comes in a familiar blue and yellow tin. The spice company McCormick owns it.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Recently an organic spice-maker came up with a new seasoning. They called it New Bae - spelled B-A-E - of course, like boyfriend - comes from the slang before anyone else.

BILL STALEY: I think it accentuates the natural warmth that some foods can have. It's got like a peppery sort of flavor to it.

SHAPIRO: That's Bill Staley, a co-owner with his wife Hayley of the organic spice company Primal Palate which makes New Bae - a name that was just too similar to Old Bay. The Staleys are now being sued by McCormick for trademark infringement.

HAYLEY STALEY: A lot of our consumers were really shocked and confused to hear that this was even going on because a lot of them were like, I thought you name that blend after Beyonce (laughter).

CORNISH: That's Hayley Staley. When she and her husband applied for a trademark, McCormick opposed their application. But the Stayleys kept selling New Bae. So McCormick sued to force the couple to change the name.

B STALEY: They're also asking us to destroy all of our bottles of New Bae and turn over any profits that we've made from selling it too.

SHAPIRO: Now, the Staleys say their name was a nod to the more famous brand, and they never meant to try to confuse customers, as McCormick claims. Law Professor Mark Lemley says McCormick might have a tough time proving their case.

MARK LEMLEY: If you look at the packages side by side, they don't look anything like each other. It seems to me unlikely that consumers would be confused by something like this.

CORNISH: In a statement, McCormick says, Old Bay is one of the most cherished brands in the McCormick portfolio, and we intend to defend it. But so far, they may have only given the smaller spice seller an unexpected boost.

H STALEY: It's almost like this whole lawsuit has actually made more consumers say, oh, this blend is similar to Old Bay. Maybe I should try it.

CORNISH: The Staleys say since the Old Bay-New Bae lawsuit made headlines, their sales have gone up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPICE UP YOUR LIFE")

SPICE GIRLS: (Singing) Shake it. Shake it. Shake it - arriba. Colors of the world, spice up your life. Every boy and every girl, spice up your life. People of the world, spice up your life. Slam it to the left if you're having a good time. Shake it to the right if you know that you feel fine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.