No, I am not kidding. The very small company called Mjödhamnen is threatened with a law suit by the very big monopoly retailer Systembolaget in Sweden. Mjödhamnen means “the port of mead” and is a small, tiny, producer and importer of mead.
What has Mjödhamnen done?
Well, they have used pie charts, circular diagrams, to describe the taste of their products. Systembolaget too uses pie charts (they call it “taste clocks”) to describe the characteristics of their products. Some time ago Systembolaget contacted Mjödhamnen and said that they did not like that Mjödhamnen used pie charts.
“It all started with that Systembolaget contacted us and asked us to remove our pie charts for sweetness, body, tannin, acidity and bitterness in the description of our meads. The charts looked too much like the ‘taste clocks’ that they have trade marked” says Johan Pihl, managing director of Mjödhamnen on his blog.
Mjödhamnen obliged and changed the design of their pie charts so that they were more distinctly different than the Systembolaget pie charts.
But they were still pie charts.
That did not help.
According to Johan Pihl Systembolaget now threatens to take Mjödhamnen to court if they do not stop using the pie charts. Before January 9.
This, apparently, is not a question of that Mjödhamnen’s circles must not look too similar to Systembolaget’s circles, but rather Systembolaget demands that Mjödhamnen do not use any kind of circle pie charts at all. “In practice they claim that they are the only ones who have a right to use pie charts, not only to describe drinks [lie beer, wine, or mead, that Systembolaget sells], but also other trade mark categories such as food and any kind of advertising”, Pihl says.
Systembolaget claims that they are the only ones who may use pie charts to describe food and drink
According to Pihl others suppliers have also been subject to similar pressure when they have used pie charts and have then chosen to stop using the circle. One should perhaps remember that virtually the only sales channel for Mjödhamnen is to sell its products through the Systembolaget, since they have the monopoly on retail sales in Sweden. The same goes for the other producers that Pihl refer to. So it is easy to understand that people may give in to pressure from their only sales channel.
But Pihl has no intention to yield: “I don’t know if we stand any chance legally. But we have no intention of giving up easily.”
We will not give up easily
Bizarre? Monopoly on pie charts? Indeed! But perhaps it is natural that a monopolist such as Systembolaget thinks that it can claim a monopoly also on using pie charts to describe tastes. Not just charts that look like their own but all types and styles of pie charts. Not only for drinks (which is their business) but for all other kinds of food too.
I do not think that it is reasonable that a company claims a monopoly on using pie charts. Even more so when the company is a state owned monopoly.
Do you agree that this is wrong? Do share this article with others!
But I suspect that Mjödhamnen is in even more of a jam. They also have recommendations on their site for which food goes with what mead, including small drawings to indicate the food type. Systembolaget also has food recommendations with small icons, so Mjödhamnen should perhaps prepare for another law suit… Perhaps the monopolist has also claimed sole right to give food recommendations and to use food icons?
Update: I have had the opportunity to read the letter from the solicitor. You can find more details here.
This post is also available in: Swedish