Be Careful What You Argue

When Pat McDonagh started a chain of burger joints in Ireland, he called them SUPERMAC’S after the nickname he earned when he played soccer.

If you want a SUPERMAC’S burger and chips you have to go to Ireland because, so far, McDonald’s has argued that SUPERMAC’S is “confusingly similar” to BIG MAC to keep the chain from expanding.[1]

That might be changing. In April 2017 Supermac’s filed to cancel McDonald’s BIG MAC registration.[2]

McDonald’s submitted a variety of evidence[3] to show that it had been using BIG MAC but the three-judge panel of the Cancellation Division was not impressed[4] and concluded that “the documents [submitted by McDonald’s] do not provide conclusive information that the products marked with [BIG MAC] are offered for actual sale . . ..”[5]

The panel revoked McDonald’s BIG MAC trademark registration[6] and ordered McDonald’s to pay all the costs.[7]

When I read a story like this, I see McDonald’s shooting itself in the foot. Trademark owners need to protect their trademarks, but sometimes trademark owners overreach and find themselves trapped by their own unqualified argument that someone else’s trademark is confusingly similar to theirs.

McDonald’s can’t now argue that BIG MAC isn’t confusingly similar to SUPERMAC’S because McDonald’s is already on record in the opposition it filed saying that it is.

Supermac’s and McDonald’s will probably agree to each allow the other to use and register its trademark. That should have happened in 2014 but McDonald’s needed to have its nose bloodied before it would play nice.

 

Huge shout out to Rebecca M. for sending me an article that led to this post.

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Photo credit: Galway – Rosemary Ave – Supermac’s
© 
2012Joseph Mischyshyn cc-by-sa/2.0 – geograph.org.uk/p/3024899

[1] In March 2014 Supermac’s Holdings Ltd filed an application to register SUPERMAC’S for, among other things, hamburgers and restaurant services. McDonald’s International Property Company, Ltd opposed the application and won the opposition.

[2] McDonald’s was granted a registration for BIG MAC in the European Union in December 1998. In the European Union, a trademark registration can be cancelled if the owner can’t prove use in the five-year period before the cancellation request was filed.

[3] Here’s the description of the evidence that McDonald’s submitted:

  • 3 affidavits, signed by representatives of McDonald’s companies in Germany, France and the United Kingdom. They claimed significant sales figures in relation to ‘Big Mac’ sandwiches for the period between 2011 and 2016 and attach examples of the packaging of the sandwich (boxes), promotional brochures and what appear to be menus, further referred to below:
  • Brochures and printouts of advertising posters, in German, French and English, showing, inter alia, ‘Big Mac’ meat sandwiches; and packaging for sandwiches (boxes); the materials appear to originate from the EUTM proprietor and are dated between 2011 and 2016. The brochures and posters show a sandwich on the menu along with other products, or on its own, and the prices are also provided on some of the materials; other documents appear to be blank menus in which the price can be filled in. The EUTM appears on the submitted material in relation to sandwiches.
  • Printouts from the websites mcdonalds.de, mcdonalds.at, mcdonalds.be, mcdonalds.cz, mcdonalds.dk, mcdonalds.es, mcdonalds.fi, mcdonalds.fr, mcdonalds.hu, mcdonalds.ie, mcdonalds.it, mcdonalds.nl, mcdonalds.pl, mcdonalds.ro, mcdonalds.se, mcdonalds.si, mcdonalds.sk, mcdonalds.co.uk,
    dated between 07/01/2014 and 03/10/2016. They depict a variety of sandwiches, inter alia ‘Big Mac’ sandwiches, some of which state that they are sandwiches made with beef meat.
  • A printout from en.wikipedia.org, providing information on ‘Big Mac’ hamburger, its history, content and nutritional values in different countries.

Decision on Cancellation No. 14 788 C (Revocation), Supermac’s (Holdings) Ltd v. McDonald’s International Property Company, Ltd. (2019), p. 3.

[4] Here’s what the Decision on Cancellation said about each of the types of evidence:

The Affidavits

  • “As far as the probative value of this kind of evidence is concerned, statements drawn up by the interested parties themselves or their employees are generally given less weight than independent evidence. This is because the perceptions of a party involved in a dispute may be more or less affected by its personal interests in the matter.
  • “However, this does not mean that such statements do not have any probative value at all.
  • “The final outcome depends on the overall assessment of the evidence in the particular case. The probative value of such statements depends on whether or not they are supported by other types of evidence (labels, packaging, etc.) or evidence originating from independent sources. In view of the foregoing, the remaining evidence must be assessed in order to see whether or not the content of the affidavits is supported by the other items of evidence.”

Decision at p. 4.

The Websites

  • “Consequently, the presence of the trade mark on websites can show, inter alia, the nature of its use or the fact that products or services bearing the mark have been offered to the public. However, the mere presence of a trade mark on a website is, of itself, insufficient to prove genuine use unless the website also shows the place, time and extent of use or unless this information is otherwise provided.
  • “In particular, the value of the internet extracts in terms of evidence can be strengthened by evidence that the specific website has been visited and, in particular, that orders for the relevant goods and services have been made through the website by a certain number of customers in the relevant period and in the relevant territory. For instance, useful evidence in this regard could be records that are generally kept when operating a business web page, for example, records relating to internet traffic and hits attained at various points in time or, in some cases, the countries from which the web page has been accessed. Neither of these, however, was provided by the EUTM proprietor.
  • “Although some of the printouts of the proprietor’s web pages exhibit sandwiches (the prices are not provided), some of which marked with the EUTM, it could not be concluded whether, or how, a purchase could be made or an order could be placed. Decision on Cancellation No 14 788 C page: 5 7 of Even if the websites provided such an option, there is no information of a single order being placed. Therefore, a connection between the EUTM proprietor’s websites (irrespective of the used country code top-level domains and languages) and the eventual number of items offered (sold) could not be established.”

Decision pp. 4-5.

The Brochures, Advertising, and Menus

“Indeed, although the submitted packaging materials and brochures depict the EUTM, there is no information provided about how these brochures were circulated, who they were offered to, and whether they have led to any potential or actual purchases. Moreover, there is no independent evidence submitted that could show how many of the products for which the packaging was used (if that is the case) were actually offered for sale or sold.”  Decision p. 5.

The Wikipedia Printout

“As far as the printout from en.wikipedia.org is concerned, it is noted that Wikipedia entries cannot be considered as a reliable source of information, as they can be amended by Wikipedia’s users and therefore these could only be considered relevant as far as they are supported by other pieces of independent concrete evidence.”  Decision at p. 5

[5] “Taking into account the submitted evidence as a whole, it is concluded that the documents do not provide conclusive information that the products marked with the EUTM are offered for actual sale, as there is no confirmation of any commercial transactions, either online, or via brick-and-mortar operations. Even if the goods were offered for sale, there is no data about how long the products were offered on the given web page or in other ways, and there is no information of any actual sales taking place or any potential and relevant consumers being engaged, either through an offer, or through a sale. Finally, as far as the relevant services are considered, there is no single piece of evidence that refers to any of the registered services being offered under the EUTM.”  Decision at p. 5

[6] “It follows from the above that the EUTM proprietor has not proven genuine use of the contested EUTM for any of the goods and services for which it is registered. As a result, the application for revocation is wholly successful and the contested EUTM must be revoked in its entirety.”  Decision at p. 6.

[7] Decision at p. 6.

Here’s a link to the decision.

 

That Which We Call Weinstein By Any Other Name Would Smell As Foul

Assuming you aren’t named Tiffany or McDonald, is it a good idea to sell widgets using your name as a trademark?

If you do, enforcing your rights is going to be hard. Kicking people out of their own names is a game for the big guys, but even if you have the resources of McDonalds Corporation and the fame of Tiffany & Co., it’s risky to tie a brand to a person. Just ask the people at The Weinstein Company, who are now considering a branding change in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by Harvey Weinstein. Ditto Mario Batali.

Old AJ.png

Even using the name of a fictional character can be problematic due to changing social mores. For example, Quaker Oats® has had to update the image of Aunt Jemima® over the years. On the left is the Aunt Jemima trademark circa 1905. On the right, 1992.

New AJ.png

Even with the update, the mark (word or image) is problematic and likely to become more so.  Ditto Uncle Ben’s®.

Pep Boys.png

Names and images are more likely to become dated. When was the last time you met someone named Manny or Moe? And look at these guys? Is this who you want to trust with your new hybrid car? Ditto Mr. Clean.®

Every trademark has unforeseeable risks. No one could have predicted that sales of a diet product that had been on the market for 47 years would fall by 50% because its trademark sounds like a deadly disease, but names and images of people are more likely to cause problems. There are so many great ways to brand, why pick something with so much potential for problems?

 

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Loooooong Trademarks

We can all think of trademarks with no words, and with a few words, but can a whole bunch of words be a trademark?

One of the early loooooooong trademarks was a bunch of words mushed together owned by McDonald’s Corporation:

TWOALLBEEFPATTIESSPECIALSAUCELETTUCECHEESEPICKLESONIONSONASESAMESEEDBUN

Lululemon.png

 

Lululemon® filed an application to register this trademark that consists of 532 words and a couple of images. It’s already passed review by the Trademark Office.

 

 

 

 

The owners of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap® took a different approach. They filed an application to register the layout of their label, rather than the words themselves. Their application hasn’t been reviewed by the Trademark Office yet. It’ll be interesting to see how it does.

Dr. Bronner's.pngDr. B real label.png

 

 

 

 

 

Does this mean you should get a trademark registration for all the words on your label?

No. It doesn’t mean that at all.

Each of these examples are long strings of words that are acting as a trademark.

If I showed you the Dr. Bronner’s label, you would probably tell me: “Oh, yeah, it’s that soap. Dr. Bronner’s, right?”

img_9415If you saw someone walking down the street with this bag, you would know it was a shopping bag from Lululemon®.

If I listed the ingredients of a BigMac® in just the right order, you would know I was referring to McDonald’s®.

So, unless your bunchofwordsstrungtogether is how consumers identify your company, you don’t need (and probably can’t get) a trademark registration.

 

 

 

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