Nando’s vs. Fernando’s: The brand making claims of trademark infringement
After chicken giant Nando’s launched legal action against a small restaurant it believed had lifted the chain’s branding, Grid Law founder David Walker helps business owners protect themselves against similar claims of trademark infringement.
How many times have we seen news stories about a small business being bullied into rebranding by a much larger rival? Far too often!
It happened again recently when the owner of Reading restaurant Fernando’s claimed that Nando’s was threatening to sue him for trademark infringement.
We saw pictures of him stood outside his shop, saying how frustrated he was. He went on to say that he had invested every penny he had into starting the restaurant and the cost of rebranding could force him to close.
This is a real shame, because situations like this are entirely preventable. If, as a small business owner, you find yourself in this situation, what should you do?
First, you have to act quickly. If you’re in the wrong, this will limit the damage and potentially the compensation you may end up having to pay. If you’ve done nothing wrong, then you need to nip this in the bud before any damage is done to your brand.
So, in this case, is Fernando’s in the wrong? Are they being bullied into rebranding by Nando’s?
The legal position
Trademarks protect brands. When you register a trademark, the law gives you the exclusive right to use that trademark in relation to the products and services you have registered it for.
If another business uses a brand that is identical or confusingly similar to the registered trademark, they are said to be infringing the brand owner’s intellectual property rights. This gives the brand owner the right to stop them. They can force the infringer to rebrand and also claim compensation for the losses that they have incurred (if they can prove, for example, they have lost sales).
Alternatively, they can claim an account of profits. That is the amount of money the infringer has made from copying the brand or trading off the back of brand owner’s reputation. Small business owners often claim this is unfair.
They suggest that the larger business is obviously threatened? by them and claim that they’re not really doing any harm so should be allowed to continue. But that’s not their decision to make.
Businesses invest a great deal of money into building their brands and customer loyalty. The law protects this investment by allowing brand owners to register trademarks. The trademark owner then has a choice about what they want to do. it’s entirely up to them if they want to stop someone else from building a business off the back of their reputation.
We saw the two extremes of this in another recent case when a convenience store was forced to change its name from ‘singhsbury’s?. Sainsbury’s took a strict view and asked them to rebrand. When they changed the name to Morrisinghs, Morrisons said they didnt mind and wished them well.
Just because a small business has been threatened with trademark infringement, it doesnt mean that they have to immediately rebrand. If we look at the Nando’s versus Fernando’s case, the name is not an identical copy.
This means that Nando’s has to prove that customers are likely to be confused between the two restaurants or think that there’s an association between them.
As a Nando’s regular, I wouldnt be confused by the two if it was just the name that was being used.
However, in this case, it seems like other trademarks or elements of the Nando’s brand were also being used, so this strengthens the case against Fernando’s.
__________________________________________________________________________________ Family-run coffee company takes on Coca-Cola in trademark disputeA family business in Devon could face a big re-branding bill after fizzy drinks giant Coca-Cola threatened it with legal action if the owners don’t change its name.
If Fernando’s really wanted to use that name, they should have made an extra effort to ensure all other aspects of the brand were easily distinguishable from those of Nando’s. This would mean there was less chance of confusion and they would have a much stronger defence against claims of trademark infringement.
When it comes to trademark infringement claims (or any legal dispute for that matter), prevention is always better than cure.
This means that small business owners should take care before naming their new business, products or services. For guidance on creating a new brand, please take a look at my previous article, Overcoming branding issues for a new business.
David Walker is the founder of Grid Law, a firm which first targeted the motorsport industry, advising on sponsorship deals, new contracts and building of personal brands. He has now expanded his remit to include entrepreneurs, aiding with contract law, dispute resolution and protecting and defending intellectual property rights.
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