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Cornell University v. Messing Bakeries, Inc.

Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division

March 9, 1955

Cornell University
v.
Messing Bakeries, Inc.

Page 491

APPEAL from a judgment of the Supreme Court at Special Term (NEWMAN, J.), entered August 20, 1954, in Tompkins County.

COUNSEL

George G. Coughlin, Edward S. Dermody and Charles E. Scribner for appellant.

Forbes D. Shaw, Harry G. Henn and J. William Robinson for respondent.

BERGAN, J.

Defendant is a baker. Using a formula for making bread evolved by Dr. Clive McCay, a professor at the New York State College of Agriculture, which is a part of Cornell University, defendant has extensively promoted it under the name of 'Cornell Recipe Bread'. The product made by the formula is described as 'a highly nutritious kind of bread'.

The recipe was released to the public in 1949 and its commercial utilization unrestricted. Cornell University, as plaintiff in this action for an injunction, objects, however, to the use of 'Cornell' in the marketing of the bread unless under conditions which it has attached to its consent. The court at Special Term has granted an injunction which does not prohibit the use of 'Cornell' in the sale of the bread but which alters some of the methods in which its use has been exploited. The baker feels aggrieved and appeals.

The university seems satisfied with the limited extent to which the judgment interferes with the use of 'Cornell' by the baker. It is useful to begin by seeing what the judgment does and what it does not do in its effect on the baker's business.

It allows the baker to use the words 'Cornell Formula Bread' but prohibits 'Cornell Recipe Bread' which the baker has been using. It requires the name of the baker to be displayed on the bread wrapper in letters twice as large as 'Cornell Formula Bread' and it prohibits the placing of the phrase

Page 492

containing 'Cornell' on a scroll, banner, flag, or similar device. There are other things about the judgment which the baker challenges, but these are the principal ones.

We have no difficulty in holding to be valid Cornell's argument that it has a legal interest in preventing the exploitation of its name for business purposes. It is not necessary to jurisdiction or to relief that plaintiff be another business in the same line. Because the university is a university and not a baker it is not to be deprived of every legal interest in the use of 'Cornell * * * Bread'. The ground of equitable intervention is not merely 'unfair competition' in the limited sense of protecting the solidly acquired rights of one business enterprise against another striving for the same market. Equity may also shield the thrust by business into the kind of legal rights acquired in areas entirely removed from commercial activities.

The theory underlying injunctive interference is that an educational institution which has won large public prestige by hard effort and at high cost ought not, against its will, have that prestige diluted by a commercial use of its name, suggesting connection or benefit to the institution from the enterprise.

The key word in the name of the university might, of course, be used under circumstances which would not touch upon or invade the university's area of protection. A coal mine or a tug or trucking enterprise might, for example, use 'Cornell' and no one would think the university either involved or concerned. But there are many other kinds of use of the main component word of the university name which could be read to suggest a link to the university; and 'Cornell Recipe Bread' using a formula worked out at ...


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