European Union Court Strips McDonald’s of its ‘Big Mac’ Trademark

On January 15th the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) stripped McDonald’s of its Big Mac trademark across Europe, favoring the Irish fast food chain Supermac’s. McDonald’s plans to appeal the decision.

Supermac’s never actually had an item called “Big Mac,” but​ successfully ​argued McDonalds ​doesn't either (or at least that people don't know about it) and that the American company only uses the trademark to block their expansion outside of Ireland. As a registered trademark McDonald's has been able to block similar large Mac sounding names by asserting that they say can confuse consumers.

The decision, if upheld, will have major consequences not just for McDonald’s and Supermac’s, but potentially for trademark rights in the European Union all together. Firstly, Supermac’s will be able to expand across all of the European Union, something that McDonald’s has prevented for decades. McDonald’s will no longer be able to protect its Big Mac rights in the European Union, which means copycats will surely be taking advantage of the now open trademark.

McDonald’s submitted printouts of European websites, posters, packaging, and affidavits from company representatives in their trademark defense, but the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) was not swayed by McDonald’s defense of its Big Mac trademark. According to the EUIPO, “it could not be concluded whether, or how, a purchase could be made or an order could be placed,” from the submitted material. “Even if the websites provided such an option, there is no information of a single order being placed,” the office continued.

The decision may have far reaching implications for other companies that use trademark registrations to dissuade imitators. The ruling from the regulators placed a high degree of importance on evidence of use linked to sales of sandwiches, even though the trademark was registered for more than just sandwiches. Certainly, if McDonald's agrees it would be able to produce such evidence. 

Currently McDonald's is the #2 largest restaurant brand in the world, with a brand value of $24 billion, according to brand evaluator Brand Finance. For now, consumers around the world will have a hard time confusing its name and the name of its signature sandwich with a competitor. However, unless McDonald's wins the appeal that may not be true for much longer.

Photo Credit: Blue Diamond Gallery