What Really Happened to the Big Mac Trademark?

The ongoing legal dispute between McDonald's, the American fast food corporation, and Supermac's, an Irish fast food chain, has seen significant developments. The core of the dispute revolves around the trademark for "Big Mac," with Supermac's challenging McDonald's European trademark. Recent court decision has added new dimensions to this case, highlighting the complexities of trademark law and corporate strategies.


Igor Demcak

Background of the dispute 

Supermac's, established in 1978 by Pat McDonagh, operates over 100 restaurants in Ireland. The company aimed to expand into the European market but faced challenges due to the absence of a European trademark. In 2015, Supermac's applied for a European-wide trademark, which McDonald's contested, arguing that Supermac's branding was too similar to its "Big Mac" trademark. This led to further legal actions in 2017 when Supermac's made another attempt at registration, resulting in McDonald's filing another objection. In response, Supermac's requested the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) to revoke McDonald's "Big Mac" trademark, citing non-use over a continuous period of five years. 

The Initial Ruling: A Victory for Supermac's

In January 2019, the EUIPO's Cancellation Division ruled in favor of Supermac's, revoking McDonald's "Big Mac" trademark. The ruling was based on the finding that McDonald's evidence, including signed statements from company representatives, brochures, and advertising materials, was insufficient to prove genuine use of the trademark. The evidence largely referred to the food item itself and not the restaurant services, a crucial distinction in trademark law. This decision was seen as a significant victory for Supermac's and a potential game-changer in the fast food industry.

McDonald's Appeals: A Reversal of Fortune

Undeterred by the initial setback, McDonald's filed an appeal with the EUIPO. The Board of Appeal (BoA) reviewed additional evidence submitted by McDonald's, including detailed sales figures and marketing materials. In January 2023, the BoA overturned the Cancellation Division's decision, concluding that McDonald's had indeed demonstrated genuine use of the "Big Mac" trademark for specific goods and services. These included foods prepared from meat and poultry products (Class 29), sandwiches (Class 30), and services associated with operating restaurants and drive-through facilities (Class 42).

The General Court Weighs In: A Mixed Outcome

Supermac's further appealed to the General Court of the European Union. The recent ruling by the General Court provided a more nuanced resolution. The court partially annulled the BoA's decision, maintaining the revocation of the "Big Mac" trademark for "chicken sandwiches" in Classes 29 and 30, and "foods prepared from poultry products" in Class 29. However, it upheld the trademark for "meat sandwiches" and "foods prepared from meat products" in Class 29, as well as "edible sandwiches" in Class 30 and related restaurant services in Class 42.

Implications for Trademark Law and Business Strategy

The General Court's decision underscores the importance of detailed and specific evidence in trademark disputes. McDonald's retained its trademark for certain categories by demonstrating genuine use, while Supermac's succeeded in challenging other categories where the evidence was deemed insufficient.

These lengthy proceedings highlight several important aspects of trademark law and business strategy:

  1. Genuine Use Requirement: This case emphasizes the necessity for companies to continuously and genuinely use their trademarks to avoid revocation. This requirement ensures that trademarks remain active and relevant in the market.

  2. Evidence Standards: The type and quality of evidence presented in trademark disputes are crucial. The General Court's decision illustrates that detailed and specific documentation is required to substantiate claims of genuine use, and generic or incomplete evidence may be insufficient.

  3. Strategic Litigation: Challenging a competitor's trademark can be a strategic move for companies seeking market expansion. However, such challenges require a comprehensive understanding of trademark law and a readiness for extended legal battles.

The McDonald's vs. Supermac's case continues to evolve, with both companies showing determination to defend their positions. Supermac's partial victory may facilitate its efforts to expand its presence in Europe, although further legal challenges may arise. For McDonald's, the decision highlights the need to maintain comprehensive documentation and evidence of trademark use.

As the fast food industry evolves, trademark disputes will remain a significant aspect of corporate strategy. Businesses must navigate the intricate landscape of intellectual property law to protect their brands and achieve their business goals.

Igor Demcak
Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Founder of Trama

7 year experience in IP protection

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