Candy giant Pez takes aim at Peninsula museum
By Bruce Newman
Should the snowman Pez dispenser be destroyed?
It took more than 30 years for the creators of Pez candy dispensers to give the little plastic figurines feet, and they never did get hands. But now the long arm of the Pez Candy Co. has reached all the way from Linz, Austria, into U.S. District Court, where it has slapped the tiny faces that fill Burlingame's Museum of Pez Memorabilia with a lawsuit.
The legal broadside, which was filed in San Francisco last month, singles out a 7-foot-10 snowman, built especially for the museum, that has been recognized by the Guinness record keepers as the world's largest Pez dispenser. Pez seeks to have the snowman melted down.
And, says the museum's newly hired lawyer, the company is demanding that the museum's "curators," Gary Doss and wife Nancy Yarbrough Doss, turn over all profits from the Pez shrine's 14 years in business.
"From a branding perspective, I think Pez should embrace the Dosses and the museum, instead of trying to attack them," said Rodger Cole, the Mountain View-based trademark attorney from Fenwick & West LLP.
Pez is the only candy that you load like the clip of a gun and eat after performing a toy tracheotomy. Candy for the American market is manufactured in Connecticut, but the fountainhead of Pezdom is in Linz, also notable for having produced the Linzer torte.
The Burlingame museum features every one of the more than 550 Pez dispensers created over the years. If the company made Biblical characters, the museum would be David and the Teutonic tort-slinging confectioner would be Goliath.
The candy company is represented in its lawsuit by Palo Alto-based attorney Larry Johnson of Alston & Bird LLP, who did not return calls seeking comment.
The Dosses opened the place in 1995 as a small computer shop, but soon they began displaying their Pez collection on the hulking Ataris and Commodores, and within a year the miniature figures had taken over. Gary Doss added the only rarity missing from his collection — a Pineapple Pez worth $3,500 — in 2005, but his biggest prize is the Make-a-Face Mr. Potato Head Pez, worth an estimated $5,000.
The museum is packed with battalions of five-inch tall cartoon characters, Jedi knights and other objects of fantasy. The displays are neatly displayed and remarkably dust-free — no small feat considering the number of small feet.
Richard Greene of Redwood City, who says he has a collection of 10,000 Pez dispensers, buys them from the Dosses and at flea markets. "I don't know what kid didn't have a Pez dispenser," Greene said while browsing last week at the museum. "I have yet to meet one."
Still, it's the Sasquatch-sized snowman that Pez-ophiles see first when they enter the museum's "gift shop" (which is actually as big as the museum itself) and which Pez began protesting almost as soon as it went on display in 2007. When the Dosses got letters from the company objecting to it being called "the world's biggest Pez dispenser," they changed its billing to the "world's biggest dispenser of Pez."
This distinction apparently was lost on Pez, who insist upon killing the counterfeit candy-coughing contraption.
"My feeling is that it's a piece of art," says Gary Doss, sounding frankly a bit huffy. "It is one of a kind. It is not for sale. And one of its main purposes as a piece of art is that it draws people into our store so we can sell Pez."
To qualify for the Guinness record, the snowman had to be made out of the same material as one of the Pez dispensers you can buy for $1.89, and it had to work like the original. For $14.95 a pop, the head tilts back and out slides a box with a regulation-size Snowman Pez dispenser inside.
Within each box is a certificate of authenticity stating that the box came from the world's biggest Pez dispenser. Sorry, the world's biggest dispenser of Pez.
So, to boil it down — and we are talking here about the legal case, not the giant Pez dispenser — if there is any justice in a company from a cold-weather country telling some Californians that they can't build a huge plastic snowman, Gary Doss doesn't see it.
"I'm going to do everything in my power not to let them get away with this," he says. "Because I don't like people telling artists to destroy their art. I mean, it's a toy that gives you candy. What could be more perfect than that?"
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004.