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Cold War: Smitten to Rename Signature Ice Cream Maker
Caleb Pershan | Photo: Ashley Gardini and Nathan Michael | March 6, 2013
Faced with a lawsuit over trademarks, Smitten Ice Cream is seeking a new name for its Kelvin ice cream maker—and you can help.
Smitten Ice Cream would be just as sweet by any other name. It’s unique: Robyn Sue Goldman’s liquid nitrogen ice cream maker churns made-to-order servings in under a minute. You eat it right after it’s made— no emulsifiers, stabilizers or gums are needed, just good old fashioned cream, milk, sugar, salt and sometimes egg or butter (depending on the flavor). In 2009, Goldman baptized her machine “Kelvin,” a year before Smitten opened in a shipping container in Hayes Valley. And in 2011, Vogue called it “the freshest, if not the best, ice cream on earth.”
But now, Kelvin is having an identity crisis. Smitten is being forced to rename its signature ice cream maker at the behest of Electrolux— the world’s second largest household appliance maker with a revenue of over $100 billion and a line of trademarked Kelvinator® refrigerators and freezers. According to Goldman “their legal counsel contacted our legal counsel saying that they think the word is confusing to their customers.” It’s a rematch of big corporation versus little start-up, and in the usual outcome, Goldman will have to appease Electrolux instead of risking an expensive legal battle. “It’s a bummer. But we’re not about to roll over dead,” she says.
Smitten is holding a renaming contest through March 15th, making light of the situation and starting fresh. The winning namer can choose between an ice cream party at Smitten or a visit from Goldman’s red wagon, which she used to transport the machine formerly known as Kelvin before setting up shop. So what would you call Kelvin?
For advice, we turned to Alexandra Watkins, the professional namer who suggested the Smitten moniker to Goldman in the first place, along with other options like Cold Hearted and Frigid. Watkins explained that this isn't the first time Smitten has run into a naming issue. The name Cold Hearted was a go for Goldman until she and Watkins learned that ice cream giant Cold Stone Creamery was highly litigious, picking fights with similarly named ice cream stores. “Even though Robyn could win in a trademark lawsuit, she didn’t have the money or the time to fight it,” says Watkins. “That was one of my first experiences with how unfair the U.S. Patent Trademark Office is. Crappy names clear legal screenings, because they’re such crap nobody has ever named their company anything like it.”
What not to submit? “For Kelvin a bad name would be anything that starts with an ‘i’ — like ‘iMixer',” says Watkins. Her naming consultancy, Eat My Words, has coined Retriever, the GPS for Dogs, and Hand Job, a Castro nail salon. “We don’t do train-wreck names that are mash-ups of words, and that are just trying too hard,” says Watkins. “Our names actually mean something and people like them because they’re clever.” Goldman wants Kelvin’s new name to personalize her machine. “It’s a character in our story and it needs to have a persona of its own.” Submit your name—with character—to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them @smittenicecream.