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The Energizer Bunny is taking the Duracell Bunny to court.
Energizer Holdings, owner of the pink bunny icon known to U.S. consumers, filed suit in federal court in Missouri on Thursday against Procter & Gamble Co., owner of Duracell, claiming packages bearing Duracell's pink-bunny clone have been showing up with increasing frequency in U.S. stores.
It's a complicated dispute, but the Duracell Bunny is legal, outside the U.S., where it existed before the Energizer Bunny emerged in 1989, initially in overseas parody advertising. Energizer began using the bunny in the U.S. that year too, and received a trademark for it here. After Duracell filed for a U.S. trademark on its competing bunny, the two sides reached a largely confidential agreement in 1992 allowing Energizer to use the bunny in the U.S. and Duracell to use it elsewhere.
Now, according to Energizer's lawsuit, packaging bearing the Duracell Bunny is showing up with growing frequency in U.S. stores and online, including a Phillips 66 service station in Limon, Colo.; two Menards stores in Missouri, a Pat Catan's store in Ohio and four online retailers.
The packages appear to be diverted from overseas markets, but Energizer's complaint says the sales come from third parties "Duracell directly or indirectly controls or over which Duracell has the ability to exercise control." After it complained to Duracell, sightings of the illicit bunny appear to have actually increased in stores, Energizer said in the suit.
Energizer is seeking an injunction and money damages. A P&G spokesman declined to comment. The company agreed to sell Duracell to Berkshire Hathaway late in 2014 in a complex transaction expected to close soon.
Any hopes Duracell might have had that Energizer would make the bunny an orphan in the wake of dropping its longtime agency TBWA/Chiat Day are likely to be dashed. Energizer Chief Consumer Officer Michelle Atkinson said in a recent interview that the bunny will remain in work later this year from new agency Camp & King, which she vowed will be "bigger and bunnier."