30 April, 2009

'Big Mac' VS 'Boleh' Mac

Fast food chain McDonald's lost its exclusivity to the usage of the prefix 'Mc' when the Court of Appeal here allowed a local Indian food outlet, McCurry Restaurant, to use 'Mc' in its business signage.

When it comes to its famous trademarks, McDonald's Corp. is known for McFightin'. But it came up a loser in Malaysia.

The case highlights a never-ending battle for big consumer-products companies: staving off alleged attempts to hijack their marquee brands.

"When you get a [trade] mark like McDonald's or Coca-Cola or 7-Eleven, it's a constant policing effort," said Craig Fochler, a trademark lawyer at Foley & Lardner in Chicago. And McDonald's has a "history of being very aggressive" when it believes someone is trespassing on its trademarks, he said.

The Oak Brook-based fast-food giant took offense at McCurry Restaurant, a Malaysian joint that maintains its name is an abbreviation for Malaysian Chicken Curry. McDonald's considers the "Mc" prefix to be its intellectual property.

Appeal Court Judge Gopal Sri Ram said the high court had "erred" in assuming that McDonald's had an exclusive right to the use of the prefix, Bernama reported.

He said McCurry's signboard has white and gray letters against a red background with a picture of a smiling chicken giving a double thumbs-up, in contrast to McDonald's red and yellow "M" logo. McCurry also serves only Indian food, not competing with McDonald's Western menu, he said.

"McCurry's Restaurant signboard would not result in reasonable persons associating McCurry with the McDonald's mark," he said.

McCurry has said its name was an abbreviation for Malaysian Chicken Curry.

In a statement, McDonald's said it was disappointed with the court's ruling, but declined to comment further because it has not seen the written decision.

McDonald's business began in 1940, with a restaurant opened by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald in San Bernardino, California. Their introduction of the "Speedee Service System" in 1948 established the principles of the modern fast-food restaurant. The original mascot of McDonald's was a man with a chef's hat on top of a hamburger shaped head whose name was "Speedee." Speedee was eventually replaced with Ronald McDonald in 1963.

The present corporation dates its founding to the opening of a franchised restaurant by Ray Kroc, in Des Plaines, Illinois on April 15, 1955, the ninth McDonald's restaurant overall. Kroc later purchased the McDonald brothers' equity in the company and led its worldwide expansion and the company became listed on the public stock markets in 1965.

Kroc was also noted for aggressive business practices, compelling the McDonald's brothers to leave the fast food industry. The McDonald's brothers and Kroc feuded over control of the business, as documented in both Kroc's autobiography and in the McDonald brothers' autobiography. The site of the McDonald brothers' original restaurant is now a monument.

With the expansion of McDonald's into many international markets, the company has become a symbol of globalization and the spread of the American way of life. Its prominence has also made it a frequent topic of public debates about obesity, corporate ethics and consumer responsibility.

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