ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Along a quiet street in Burlingame, California, there is a small hole-in-the-wall museum dedicated to the pursuit of Pez. Now you might think that the company that makes Pez candy would like this strange homage to Pez memorabilia but it's more complicated than that. In fact, the company has sued the museum in federal court.
David Gorn reports.
DAVID GORN: This place is as cramped as the inside of a Pez dispenser.
Unidentified Man: Adults are $3, kids four to 12 are $1.
GORN: The tour covers two rooms, each the size of a walk-in closet crammed chock-full of these colorful plastic heads - 800 of them. Joyce Lee(ph) drove about an hour to get here because this is Pez heaven.
Ms. JOYCE LEE: Really cool with all these collection of Pez. Who doesn't like Pez, right?
GORN: Well it turns out that just because everyone likes Pez, doesn't mean you can't have a fight over it. According to the store's owner, Gary Doss, Pez Candy Inc wants to shut him down.
Mr. GARY DOSS (Curator, Owner, Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia): We're here, promoting their product. We're embracing their product as a fun collectible and we've been doing it for over 14 years.
GORN: Doss says, this is not the first time he and Pez have crossed dispensers. When he first opened the place, Pez made him change the name from the Pez Museum to the mouthful it is now, the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia. Doss calls it harassment.
Mr. DOSS: It's as if we're making something here and putting their name on it. That's not what we're doing.
GORN: But Pez Candy Inc says that's exactly what the museum is doing. If it was just selling all things Pez, that'd be fine, they say. But they add, you can't sell things that aren't official merchandise, like Pez T-shirts the museum printed up. And you can't use that seven foot tall Pez dispenser the museum made that stands just inside the front door. Alan Barry is the lawyer for Pez Candy Inc in Connecticut. He says, it's not really a giant Pez dispenser because Pez doesn't make a giant dispenser.
Mr. ALAN BARRY (Lawyer for Pez Candy Inc): Its only Pez if we say it's Pez, the same way that you will not see a Mickey Mouse in the United States made by anybody but Disney. It's only Mickey Mouse if Disney says it's Mickey Mouse. Otherwise, it's an infringement. You have to control what is core to your brand.
GORN: Barry and Pez CEO Joe Vittoria say Pez is a sweet company, that it has been supportive of the store and museum in Burlingame. But it is not supportive of trademark infringement. And the thing to understand is Pez, which started out as a candy company in Austria in the '50s, is now a worldwide moneymaker. Pez collectors can pay thousands of dollars for a single tiny plastic dispenser. There are Pez conventions, Pez clubs. Pez has become iconic.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Theme from Seinfeld")
GORN: It even became the storyline for a "Seinfeld" episode, the one where Elaine makes a scene by giggling uncontrollably just looking at a Pez dispenser.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Seinfeld")
Ms. JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS (Actor): (As Elaine Benes) It was Jerry. Jerry put a Pez dispenser on my leg.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ELIZABETH MOREHEAD (Actor): (As Noel) You put a Pez dispenser on her leg during my recital?
Mr. JERRY SEINFELD (Actor): (As Jerry Seinfeld) I didn't know she would laugh.
GORN: So Pez is not just a toy, it's a phenomenon. And maybe the final proof of its lofty status in American culture is that it's ending up in court.
For NPR News, I'm David Gorn.
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