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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

McDonald's loses 'McCurry' battle in Malaysia

Small restaurant beats fast-food goliath's challenge -- after 8-year court fight over name.
Mc is no longer exclusive to McDonald's (MCD) in Malaysia.

The fast-food chain lost an eight-year trademark battle to prevent a Malaysian curry restaurant from using the name "McCurry."

McDonald's, which has 185 outlets in Malaysia, first sued the curry restaurant in 2001, claiming trademark infringement. A high court ruled in favor of McDonald's in 2006, but McCurry then took the matter up to an appellate court, which ruled in its favor.

McDonald's subsequently took the matter to the federal court. But Chief Judge of Malaysia Ariffin Zakaria said McDonald's failed to properly frame its questions when applying to challenge the appeals court's earlier verdict.

"We feel great that this eight-year legal battle is finally over, and we can now go ahead with whatever we plan to do such as opening new branches," McCurry owner P. Suppiah told Reuters after the court decision.

McCurry, which stands for Malaysian Chicken Curry, first opened in 1999 and serves dishes including fish head curry and breads including roti chanai and tandoori naan, according to the restaurant's Web site. Its logo is a chicken giving a thumbs-up sign.

"It's a classic case of whether or not the registration and use of a mark, that is said to closely resemble that of another party's, will cause confusion and deception," Gilbert Leong, a partner at Singapore-based Rodyk & Davidson's intellectual property practice, told Bloomberg News. "Obviously, the courts in Malaysia didn’t think that it would."

Suppiah is apparently not one to hold grudges. "My children like eating at McDonald's, so I will continue going there and I would like to invite the president of McDonald's worldwide to come here to McCurry's and have a dosai, on the house -- but we can't supersize it," he said, according to Agence France-Presse.

In in 2004, McDonald's lost an attempt to stop Singapore-based Future Enterprises from distributing products with names like "MacTea," but McDonald's has also won cases regarding the "Mc" prefix. The same year, McDonald's won a 16-year fight with Big Mak Burger in the Philippines. As long as there is no trademark infringement, "smaller companies definitely have a fighting chance against the big brand names," Tan Tee Jim, a partner at Singapore-based Lee & Lee, which acted on Future Enterprises' behalf, told Bloomberg.

In 2003, Merriam-Webster defined the term "McJob" as "low- paying and dead-end work," which prompted a sharp response from former McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Cantalupo.

In an open letter to Merriam-Webster, Cantalupo said "your inclusion of the term "McJob", with its definition of "low paying and dead end work ", is not only an inaccurate description of restaurant employment, it's also a slap in the face to the 12 million men and women who work hard every day in America's 900,000 restaurants."

Other "Mc" suits include one against a motel with the name McSleep and McCoffee, a San Francisco Bay area espresso shop named after its owner, Elizabeth McCaughey.

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