Intellectual Property in Babe Ruth

August 16, 2019  

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Sweets are commonly associated with baseball – fans sing about Cracker Jack during the seventh inning, and baseball cards were long sold with sugary chewing gum. Candy bars are perhaps the most vivid of such associations. Longtime baseball fans may recall “Reggie!”, the candy bar named for Reggie Jackson. Some may associate the “Oh Henry!” bar with Henry Aaron, though the candy bar predates Aaron’s career. Babe Ruth, more than any other player, entered the general American consciousness, and has remained there even more than a century after his birth. The “Baby Ruth” candy bar has had similar staying power, as a reminder of the Babe to the casual fan, and also as a reminder of the vagaries of intellectual property law.

Jane Leavy’s excellent biography of Babe Ruth – The Big Fella – Babe Ruth And The World He Created (New York: HarperCollins, 2018) – aptly describes the fight over “Baby Ruth”, and the ways in which that fight revealed changes in twentieth-century commerce. One aspect of the fight concerned the origin of the name of the candy bar. The Curtiss Candy Company denied that it was named after the slugger, and instead claimed that it was named for President Cleveland’s daughter, Ruth, who had died in 1904. (216)

In response, Ruth and his business manager created a competing candy bar, “Ruth’s Home Run”. (225) However, the trademark application for the new candy bar was denied, leaving “Baby Ruth” to benefit from the association with Babe Ruth. As Leavy observes, “Curtiss and all the successor ownership companies would continue to promote and profit from that confusion and the public identification with Ruth for nearly a century.” (233)