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Judge rules against Ben & Jerrys in Israel licensing case

A US district judge has refused to grant an initial injunction to block the licensing, sale or distribution of Ben & Jerrys products in Israel and the West Bank.

Earlier this season, the ice cream maker announced its intentions to pull out from the Occupied Palestinian Territory to be inconsistent with the fundamental components of the brands integrity a choice that attracted the ire of its territorial distributor, who sued the firm and its own parent company, Unilever, for unlawfully terminating their business arrangement.

On 23 June, Unilever informed Ben & Jerrys a franchise deal have been in the works to transfer certain B & J brand rights to a third-party, who continue steadily to sell the companys ice cream in the boycotted territories.

This triggered another lawsuit, filed on 5 July, where the maker of Peanut Butter Cup ice cream alleged breach of the merger agreement and breach of the shareholders agreement, stating Unilever had made the licensing call without consulting the Ben & Jerry Board of Directors.

The maker argued that granting sale rights to a third-party would cause irreparable injury to the ice cream brands integrity, the safeguarding which is at the scope of Ben & Jerrys own Board according to the merger agreement with Unilever.The ice cream maker also feared a fresh owner would undermine [Ben & Jerrys capability to protest certain issues by launching products] by launching [the] identical quality products with the precise opposite social mission stance.

Ben & Jerrys motion further argued a fresh owner could have control on the marketing of new mission-driven products, that could present a contrary message to consumers and result in customer confusion concerning who owns Ben & Jerrys social mission.

Too speculative

However the presiding judge Andrew L. Carter slammed the complaint, stating that [s]uch purported harm is too speculative to constitute irreparable.

The injunctive relief sought cannot issue based on a hypothetical scenario involving several speculative steps, namely that (1) services will undoubtedly be introduced, (2) those products will seek to mention a specific message, and (3) the brand new owners then will market those products to mention a contrary message, the judge wrote.

Carter criticized having less evidence made by the manufacturer to aid its arguments and stated its claim about possible client confusion was also remote because of Ben & Jerrys well-publicized position and the truth that any services sold in the boycotted territories would use Hebrew and Arabic trademarks as opposed to the globally-recognized English branding.

Ben & Jerrys and Unilever have already been approached for comment.

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