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Applebee's Sues Nestle Over 'Skillet Sensations'

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Applebee's International Inc. has filed a lawsuit against Nestle SA, accusing the food company of infringing the restaurant chain's "Skillet Sensations" trademark.

Applebee's claims Nestle, through its Stouffer Corp. subsidiary, has used the same phrase in advertising, marketing, and packaging a line of frozen food products, according to the Associated Press.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court here alleges that both companies' Skillet Sensations products are aimed at similar markets and are similarly priced, causing "a likelihood of consumer confusion, deception, and mistake." The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for unfair competition and trademark dilution.

In September, the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled in favor of Applebee's. The board found Overland Park, Kan.-based Applebee's had prior rights to Skillet Sensations and that there was a likelihood of confusion between the two product lines.

The board, however, does not have the authority to enjoin the use of a trademark, and Stouffer has continued using it, according to the lawsuit.

Applebee's began using Skillet Sensations in 1996 for entrees consisting mainly of meat, poultry, or fish with vegetables. The entrees are sold in its restaurants and for takeout.

Stouffer began using Skillet Sensations about a year later for frozen prepared dinners consisting of meat, vegetables, and potatoes with rice or pasta. The products are sold in grocery stores throughout the United States.

Applebee's, with more than 1,300 restaurants in the United States, bills itself as the largest casual dining chain in the United States. Nestle, based in Switzerland, is the world's largest food and beverage company. In the first six months of 2003, it reported $2 billion income on nearly $30 billion in sales.
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