Trademarks. It’s a surprisingly touchy subject in the baking industry. Nearly all of the most beloved children’s characters are trademarked, and that is the crux of the problem. Children want that character on their birthday cake, parents will do almost anything to give their child what he wants and many bakers or decorators are tempted to overlook the trademark, just this once.
There are stories about how a big corporate giant (i.e., Disney®) has brought down small bakeries for selling a trademarked character cake. But surely it’s the stuff of urban legend, right? Why would a huge corporation go after one little bakery? While I don’t know of a particular example (after a very quick Google search), my reply would be to steer clear.
This was all brought to mind when I was at a friend’s house and she was showing me pictures of a birthday cake from a child’s party she attended. The cake was very cute with a Minnie Mouse® topper made out of fondant. While my friend gushed about how adorable the cake was and how perfect for a little girl’s first birthday, all I could think was, “I know what town the parents live in, and I know there is a very well-known, well-respected bakery in that town. I hope that bakery didn’t make that cake.” My next thought was, “That’s going to end up on Facebook, and I bet she’ll mention where she got the cake.”
Normally, having your products posted up on Facebook with a ton of gushing remarks would be a good thing, but when it comes to trademarked characters, it could be bad. All it takes is the right person to see the photo and your bakery could be in the middle of a very sticky situation. The internet and social media sites have made it a larger issue, as now people across the country can see your decorated cakes.
Companies take their trademarks seriously. (As do you. Think of how you would react if a bakery opened up across the street with a similar name after you spent years establishing your business in the community.) Some have even gone so far as to dictate how you have to decorate a cake when you purchase kits of trademarked characters from suppliers. It can be as detailed as you have to use these certain colors, this certain border and no substitutions. Even some of the decorated cakes featured in this magazine have caused me to wonder if we might be stepping a little too close to the line.
The best bet when you’re in doubt is to say no. Will the parents and/or child be disappointed? Most likely. But you have to protect your own investment– your business, much like the big corporations have to protect their business– their copyrights.