RALPH BRUNO DOES NOT HAVE Gouda feelings toward Tom Wedeward. Wedeward doesn't give Edam.
This is what happens when two companies go head-to-head over the rights to hats shaped like cheese wedges, the tasteful little chapeaus worn by modish fans of the Green Bay Packers and the Milwaukee Brewers and by other Wisconsinites eager to advertise their dairy-state origins.
Bruno, who created the poly-urethane hats in 1987, claims Wedeward is violating his copyright by selling suspiciously similar hats. Wedeward claims that, because of a legal technicality, Bruno's copyright doesn't apply anymore. So, of course, push came to chvére, and they're battling each other in federal court.
"We created and characterized a piece-of-cheese head garment, and we're trying to protect our product, that's all," growls Bruno, 35, who came up with the idea 10 years ago. That's when he made his ur-Cheese-head out of a foam-rubber seat and wore it to a Brewers game. "Wisconsinites have always been known as cheeseheads, so I thought, what the heck," he says. "Unfortunately, my friends wouldn't sit with me." But the hat caught on, and Foamation Inc., the Milwaukee-based company that Bruno founded to manufacture Cheeseheads, now boasts $1 million a year in sales.
In fact, the issue all along has been bread, not cheese. Wedeward, 58, who bought a Menomonee Falls company called Scofield Souvenirs & Postcard Co. nine years ago, undersells Foamation by about $6 a hat, racking up $1.5 million a year in sales. "They're upset with me because I have been able to sell a better product than they have at a better price," says Wedeward. A better product? Well, Wedeward claims that his $13.99 hats, called Cheese Tops, are lighter, flame-resistant, and don't stick together on the shelves.
As Bruno and Wedeward await a court date, the Packers are enjoying their best season in years, and both Cheesehead companies are doing Muenster business. That, at least, is a feta accompli.
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