McDonald’s suffered a devastating blow this week after the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) cancelled the fast-food chain’s “Big Mac” trademark. James Williams in our Intellectual Property team looks at this landmark case in more detail below.
If you ask anyone in the street which product they associate most with McDonald’s, no doubt they will say the Big Mac. The iconic burger was first launched in the United Kingdom in 1974, following the opening of the first fast-food restaurant on Woolwich High Street in London. Fast-forward to 2019, and the Big Mac is used by the Economist to compare global consumer prices, is sold in over 37,000 restaurants worldwide and is renowned throughout the world as being a staple of McDonald’s menu.
It comes as no surprise that McDonald’s, a known enforcer of intellectual property rights, sought to protect their precious “Big Mac” by trademarking it in the European Union in 1996.
McDonald’s used this trademark to file a case for trademark infringement in the EUIPO against Supermac’s, the largest Irish-owned fast food chain in the Republic and Northern Ireland. Although it does not sell a Big Mac in its restaurants, McDonald’s claimed that the business’ name was enough to warrant an infringement of the registered trademark as the similarity between Big Mac and Supermac’s would confuse customers. In response to the case, Supermac’s applied to have the Big Mac trademark revoked and branded McDonald’s a “trademark bully” indicating that the American fast-food chain was purposely blocking Supermac’s expansion.
After years of litigation, the EUIPO ruled that McDonald’s had not proven genuine use of the trademark for the last five years and ordered that the trademark be cancelled. It was determined that the fast-food chain had not provided appropriate evidence to demonstrate that it had used the mark for the five years preceding 2017 – when the case was first filed. For Supermac, the decision opens the door to register the brand in Europe as a trademark and clears the way for its ambition to expand across Great Britain and continental Europe.
In a statement released this week, McDonald’s have indicated that they intend to appeal the decision and remain confident that it will be overturned by the EUIPO Board of Appeals. McDonald’s maintain that they own the “full and enforceable trademark rights for the mark “BIG MAC” throughout Europe” and have said that they will provide further evidence to the EUIPO in due course.