Food Trucks Spark Trademark Flare-Ups
A Minnesota food truck operating under the name “Twisted Sister House of Hunger” receives a cease and desist letter from heavy metal band Twisted Sister objecting to the name of a popular food truck. The estate of Frank Sinatra successfully opposes a food truck in Michigan seeking to federally trademark the name “Franks Anatra.” A New York City restaurateur is victorious in using his top selling pork belly steamed bun sandwich known as “Chairman Bao” and forces a food truck in San Francisco to change its name from “The Chairman Bao Truck” to “The Chairman Truck.”
Across the nation, restaurants, food trucks, and their loyal customers are wrapped up in the growing popularity of mobile cuisine. As the growth trend spirals upward, so will the battles in the courtroom and before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
According to Richard Myrick, the author of Running a Food Truck for Dummies and the editor-in-chief and founder of Mobile Cuisine Magazine, there are more than 7,000 food trucks traversing the streets of the United States, from small town to bustling metropolis. Markets such as San Francisco and Miami are attracting chefs and entrepreneurs in droves as they take their culinary skills and ideas mobile. As the number of food trucks grows exponentially, the number of filings for federal trademark protection has increased. As of January 2013, there are over 900 live applications or trademark registrations in connection with providing mobile food services. In addition, there are over 300 service marks that specifically reference a food truck in the description of services.
Branding is a critical component to operating a successful food truck operation and savvy entrepreneurs are seeking to secure their names on a federal level. “We’re intending to be a national brand,” says John Levy, CEO of the AZ Canteen food truck, the brainchild of Andrew Zimmern, the local chef and restaurant critic turned international television host with his popular television shows Bizarre Foods and Bizarre Foods America. The truck was launched last summer. “We are putting a lot of effort, energy and resources into our trademark,” Levy added.
Searching, clearing, and securing a food truck name are top priorities for new food truck operators and brick-and-mortar restaurants looking to bring their menus mobile. The name needs to be checked before the truck hits the street. “If possible, retain the assistance of a trademark lawyer to make sure that the rights to the name are available,” says New York City Food Truck Association President David Weber, who wrote The Food Truck Handbook. Failing to do so often leads to lengthy trademark battles, hefty legal expenses, and costs for rebranding, he adds. “There have been instances in New York where other hospitality businesses on the other side of the country had rights to a name and the New York food truck had to rebrand itself.”
Trademarks and service marks provide exclusive protection of words, phrases, symbols, designs, or a combination of these elements. Obtaining federal trademark protection confers numerous benefits including a legal presumption of ownership, nationwide trademark priority rights, listing in the online databases of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which is reviewed and cited by Examining Attorneys considering filed trademark applications, and deterring others from using identical or confusingly similar marks.
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