When we recently discussed the rather odd story of the famous burger chain In ‘N Out suing an Australian burger joint over trademark concerns despite having no storefront presence in the country, there was one aspect of it glossed over in the source link and omitted by me that really deserves some fleshing out. You see, like here in America, Australian trademark law has a provision that you actually must be using the mark in question in order to retain it. More specifically, use must be established every five years in order to keep the trademark valid. Given that In ‘N Out operates no storefronts in Australia, readers rightly wondered how it was possible that the company even had a valid trademark to wield in its trademark battle.
The answer to that question is as cynical as it is perverse. It turns out that In ‘N Out turns up so-called “pop-up” storefronts for its chain in Australia and a few other countries every so often, specifically to keep just barely within the trademark law provisions.
In Australia, in particular, trademark laws have a “use it or lose” quality to them. If they are not used within a five-year span of time, companies could lose protection for their names and logos. International businesses, though they may never create a fully running branch overseas, could be vulnerable to someone else taking their ideas in other countries if they apply for a trademark. This would dilute the brand in a whole host of ways. To avoid the misfortune of Burger King, who lost its trademark and had to become Hungry Jack’s, In-N-Out found a workaround to establishing a permanent presence in the Land Down Under by simply hosting pop-ups every so often to use their trademark in the country.
Cynical, as I said, and a serious perversion of the purpose of trademark laws generally. The entire point of trademark protections is to keep customers informed as to the source of goods purchased and the affiliations of the companies from which they purchase them. Remember that the context of this story and the chain’s lawsuit is the existence of a single burger joint calling itself “Down ‘N Out.” While there is clear homage to In ‘N Out, the burger joint does nothing to convince the public that it’s part of the California chain.
So, instead of serving the public good by staving off confusion, what this gaming of Australia’s trademark law does instead is to simply lock up language similar to the In ‘N Out name by maintaining an insultingly limited presence in the country’s market. In ‘N Out does not operate these pop-ups in order to server the Australian market. Rather, they operate them specifically so as to deny that Australian market its sort of business. These pop-ups have, ahem, popped up for years, with no sign of In ‘N Out even considering having any real storefront presence anywhere in the country. Instead, the pop-ups serve only as an excuse to file lawsuits such as it did against Down ‘N Out.
Whatever you might think of In ‘N Out’s actual trademark claim in its lawsuit, that’s truly about as cynical as it gets.
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