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Northrop wants Stealth Condoms grounded

As Northrop Corp. officials scurried through the halls of Congress last week, trying to salvage funding for the B-2 Stealth bomber, the defense contractor's lawyers were preparing to shoot down a small business here _ Stealth Condoms. A Taylor businessman, John Hughes, said he cannot fathom why the huge defense contractor would care about his kitchen-table business: enclosing a red, a white and a blue condom in a cardboard package resembling a Stealth bomber.

After thinking up the idea "to put some fun back into condom buying," Hughes applied for a trademark last year, but Los Angeles-based Northrop has filed a petition with the trademark office to block his application.

"If they stop my trademark _ if they can _ we're out of business automatically," Hughes said. "They know I'm not a big company. If they make me spend enough money, sooner or later I'm history."

The Austin lawyer who submitted the corporation's petition to the trademark board, William Barber, said he would not comment on the case without permission from Northrop.

The petition, filed with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board on July 18, states that Northrop believes it will be damaged by the trademark for Stealth Condoms because "its use by applicant (Hughes) is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive." The petition also states that "it may falsely suggest a connection with" Northrop, damaging its reputation.

Hughes said that his condoms have a better reputation than Northrop's radar-evading plane, which has been the subject of rancorous debate in Congress.

"The condoms perform better than the bomber," Hughes said. "Our package will even fly over 40 feet _ they don't do well in wind, though. They're totally radar-proof, can fly low, and don't require a great length of runway."