(CN) — There's only one Big Mac, right? Not so fast. In a supersized trademark controversy, a European regulator has ruled in favor of an Irish fast-food restaurant chain and stripped McDonald’s of its exclusive use of the name Big Mac in the European Union.
The European Union Intellectual Property Office, based in Spain, recently ruled in favor of a popular Irish burger chain called Supermac’s and said McDonald’s had failed to prove it can claim ownership of the Big Mac trademark.
McDonald’s on Thursday vowed to appeal and claims it still retains the trademark rights to Big Mac, the iconic stacked hamburger with its special sauce and storied history of Big Mac lovers, among them President Donald Trump, and John Travolta's character in the film “Pulp Fiction."
Supermac’s has challenged the American giant since 2014, claiming McDonald’s engaged in “trademark bullying” to stifle competition and stop it from expanding into Great Britain and across Europe. Supermac’s line of burgers and meals are similar to McDonald’s. On its menu is a Mighty Mac burger and it has plans for a SuperMac burger.
In its filings, McDonald’s claimed Supermac’s name was confusingly similar to Big Mac. McDonald’s Big Mac trademark covered not only burgers but also franchises.
The first Supermac’s restaurant opened on the main street of Ballinasloe in County Galway, Ireland, in 1978, and today there are more than 100 outlets across Ireland and Northern Ireland. Pat McDonagh, the chain’s founder, says Supermac was his boyhood nickname when he played Gaelic football.
Scottish and Irish surnames often include the prefix Mac, and its abbreviated version Mc, to signify “son of.”
The Jan. 11 ruling is viewed both as a win for small businesses — and a strike against multinationals — and as the latest absurd anti-American ruling by out-of-touch European regulators.
A Bloomberg opinion writer said the ruling “reads like it was written by someone who has never been to a McDonald’s.” He added that it was the “latest example of an EU allergy to U.S. multinationals.”
In a statement to Courthouse News, McDonald’s said it would appeal. The company said it was “confident it will be overturned” by the trademark office’s board of appeals.
In the ruling, regulators said the proof McDonald’s submitted to show it had “genuinely used” its Big Mac trademark in recent years was insufficient.
McDonald’s submitted information about millions of Big Macs sold in Europe, menus, brochures and a Wikipedia page telling the history of the Big Mac, which goes back to 1967. But the regulators said records from McDonald’s employees were insufficient and not independent, and that Wikipedia pages are not reliable sources of information.
McDonagh has likened his victory to David defeating Goliath or, for a rugby reference, the Irish rugby team of Connacht besting New Zealand’s world-famous All Blacks.
In a statement, McDonagh said the ruling helps “businesses that are trying to compete against faceless multinationals.” He’d like to open new restaurants in Great Britain where there are large Irish populations.
McDonald’s, like other major companies, carefully guards its trademarks. It has numerous EU trademarks for its well-known products, including McNuggets, McChicken, McFeast and McFlurry.
But McDonagh charged that McDonald’s routinely registers brand names and stores them away “in a war chest to use against future competitors.” He charged that McDonald’s had trademarked one of Supermac’s products, the SnackBox, even though McDonald's didn't have it on its menu.
McDonald’s claims Supermac’s will take advantage of the reputation of its famous Big Mac.
“McDonald’s Big Mac is an iconic burger loved the world over,” the company said in a statement. It said its “range of intellectual property protection across the brand at an EU and national level” will not be affected by ruling.
McDonagh said the ruling showed the importance of EU institutions. “We can be proud to be part of a Europe in which all are equal. Small is no longer a disadvantage.”
Supermac’s reports revenue of about $93 million a year and McDonald’s, a publicly traded corporate giant, does about $22.8 billion in sales at about 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)
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