Pluots Meet Intellectual Property Law

By Matthew Yglesias

When I last discussed the mysterious pluot I wanted to know how to say the word, but this fruit turns out to contain many more mysteries. Most notably, a pluot is not simply a name for any old plum/apricot hybrid. Indeed, a half-plum half-apricot is called a plumcot and not nearly as sweet as the pluot. A pluot, instead, is a hybrid based on hybdridizing plumcots with . . . more plums. The exact ratios wind up varying a great deal and as Chip Brantley explains in Slate the situation is confused by the fact that pluot is actually a specific trademark owned by Floyd Zaiger under which he markets a variety of different strains of plumcot/plum hybrid products.

The term, in other words, is a marketing tool and not a specific variety of fruit as such:

As the Zaigers have continued to cross and backcross their increasingly complex hybrids, they’ve released dozens of pluots, each with a slightly different lineage. While it’s surely true that one variety’s family tree shakes out around 75 percent plum to 25 percent apricot (or even 60 percent and 40 percent), it’s not correct to say that all pluots are three-quarters plum and one-quarter apricot (or three-fifths and two-fifths). Best just to say that pluots are mostly plum and leave it at that.

This strikes me as contrary to the spirit and legitimate purpose of trademark law. Trademark owners, of course, jealously guard their trademarks to make money. But the legitimate purpose is to help consumers avoid confusion and fraud. In this case, we actually seem to be inducing confusion by allowing a variety of different fruit concepts to all be lumped together as pluots.

4 responses to “Pluots Meet Intellectual Property Law

  1. I would like to see you write a comparison of pluots and labradoodles.

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  3. I think the trademark is less about establishing consistency than it is about establishing who’s responsible for a product. Consumers need to know where they can seek redress, and the market needs to know who’s who in order to pick winners and losers.

    If consistency was the concern, then having various flavors of Three Musketeers, or different scents for a single brand of laundry detergent would both be a problem, right? (I’m saying this assuming that there’s some way for the consumer to distinguish varieties of pluots before purchase).

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