Welsh firm wins battle to call spam ‘spam’

June 17, 2006

Saturday, 17th June 2006 – by Paul Rowland, Western Mail / Wales Online

A WELSH company run by a 24-year-old business graduate has won its battle to use the word ‘spam’ as part of an internet product.

NetBop Technologies, based in Swansea, won the right to market its junk email filter as ‘bopspam’, despite objections from US-based manufacturer Hormel Foods, which produces the tinned meat called Spam (the name is apparently from sp(iced h)am).

The software is designed to filter out unsolicited emails, which computer users call ‘spam’.

The company’s managing director, Andrew Downie, said yesterday it would have been “catastrophic” to have been prevented from using the name.

But he claimed he never believed the application, which was first entered in October 2004, would be turned down.

Other firms have been allowed to use the term in logos, but not in the title of their products.

A statement issued by Hormel Foods said it still wished to protect the identity of its brand as distinct from the word used from unwanted emails.

But a linguistic expert last night predicted that the food manufacturer “didn’t stand a chance” of stopping the word from increasingly being used to describe unsolicited mail.

David Crystal, who is based in Anglesey, said, “It is the latest in a long series of battles of this kind. It is the penalty of success.

A firm markets a product which is so successful that its name enters the language usually as a generic term.

Hoover becomes ‘a hoover’, for instance. They complain and may even take the dictionary to court, but they always lose.

After a while the original product name gets forgotten about – who now remembers that ‘escalator’, for instance, was once a company name?

What is unusual about the spam case is that it is an unrelated meaning which was the contentious issue. Frankly I’m surprised it has taken a company so long to achieve this result. Spam in the electronic sense has been around ever since the Monty Python programme which initiated the meaning, and is already in major dictionaries. The meat company wouldn’t stand a chance, faced with the weight of modern usage.

In a statement released by Hormel Foods, the company said its main objective was that no-one should believe the product was named after unwanted email.

A spokesman said, A spokesman for Hormel Foods, said, “Let’s face it, today’s teens and young adults are more computer-savvy than ever, and the next generations will be even more so.

Children will be exposed to the slang term ‘spam’ to describe UCE (unsolicited commercial email) well before being exposed to our famous product Spam.

Ultimately, we are trying to avoid the day when the consuming public asks, ‘Why would Hormel Foods name its product after junk email?’.

Mr Downie, who graduated from Swansea University, said the opposition to his use of the name took him by surprise, but said he was relieved to have been given the green light.

To be honest, we didn’t think it would be a problem at all, because there’s a clear distinction between the word spam for email, and the word Spam for food. They are very different things, which is why we didn’t think we’d have any problem whatsoever.

But it would have been devastating for our trade if we’d had to change it. It would have been fairly catastrophic.