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Friday, Dec. 2, 2011

News photo
No joke: Omoshiroi Koibito (Funny Lover) cookies (right) and Hokkaido's Shiroi Koibito (White Lover) biscuits are seen. KYODO PHOTO

Shiroi Koibito maker soured by parody sweets, sues

Staff writer

Entertainment conglomerate Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. may have chosen the wrong company to mess with, after a Hokkaido-based sweets maker slapped the group with a lawsuit alleging it has infringed on the brand name of its famous cookies.

Ishiya Co., known for its Shiroi Koibito (White Lover) cookies, says Osaka-based Yoshimoto Kogyo crossed the line when it began marketing its waffles under the Omoshiroi Koibito (Funny Lover) brand name.

Ishiya has been selling Shiroi Koibito since 1976, and the cookies are one of Hokkaido's top "omiyage" (souvenir) items.

But in 2010, a Yoshimoto Kogyo subsidiary started marketing Omoshiroi Koibito as a parody of the famous Hokkaido cookies, using near-identical packaging and a logo with similar fonts and design.

Although Yoshimoto Kogyo is known for managing many of Japan's top comedians and entertainers, Ishiya didn't find any humor.

"This isn't funny at all," Ishiya President Shunpei Shimada told reporters after the sweets maker filed the suit Monday with the Sapporo District Court. The company is seeking a court order to ban sales of Omoshiroi Koibito.

"We are seriously concerned about our company's future, and must protect the popularity and fame of Shiroi Koibito," Ishiya said in a statement, adding it has received complaints from customers who mistakenly purchased Yoshimoto Kogyo's cookies.

But on Tuesday, the entertainment group said the Omoshiroi Koibito cookies are "packed with Yoshimoto Kogyo-style humor and joking," and the intention was to make customers "chuckle and put a smile on their faces."

The agency claimed it never meant to hurt the Shiroi Koibito brand or to turn a profit through underhanded marketing.

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