Macdonald Trademark Case Study

McCurry, the restaurant that defied the Big Mac wins eight-year battle

By Mail Foreign Service
Updated: 20:13 GMT, 8 September 2009

McDonald's has lost an eight-year trademark battle to stop a restaurant in Malaysia calling itself McCurry.

The country’s federal court said the fast food giant could not appeal against another court’s verdict that had allowed the restaurant to use the ‘Mc’ prefix.

The owner says McCurry, which serves Indian food, is an abbreviation for Malaysian Chicken Curry.

Super-sized victory: McCurry restaurant owner A.M.S.P. Suppiah and his wife Kanageswary pose in front of their eatery as they celebrate a court victory over McDonald's in Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia's highest court agreed - and ruled that McDonald's cannot appeal the verdict in a precedent-setting judgement.

The ruling by a three-member panel of the Federal Court ends all legal avenues for McDonald's to protect its name from what it said was a trademark infringement.

McDonald's will have to pay 10,000 ringgit (£1,760) to McCurry, a popular eatery in Jalan Ipoh on the edge of Kuala Lumpur.

McDonald's lawyers refused to comment, except to say the company will abide by the judgement.

McCurry lawyer Sri Devi Nair said the ruling means McDonald's does not have a monopoly on the prefix 'Mc,' and that other restaurants could also use it as long as they distinguish their food from McDonald's.

Tears of a clown: The face of McDonald's, Ronald McDonald, at an outlet in a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur

The prefix has already made its way into popular American lexicon. Graduates who end up in jobs below their qualifications term their employment 'McJobs', and characters on popular U.S. television show Grey's Anatomy term two of the male leads as 'McDreamy' and 'McSteamy'. 

But the ruling was the first time another restaurant has been allowed to use the famous prefix while marketing its food.

A three-member Appeal Court panel had ruled in favour of McCurry Restaurant in April this year when it overturned a 2006 high court ruling that had upheld McDonald's contention.

Arifin said McDonald's lawyers were unable to point out faults in the Appeal Court judgement, which had said there was no evidence to show that McCurry was passing off McDonald's business as its own.

The Appeal Court also said McDonald's cannot claim an exclusive right to the 'Mc' prefix in the country.

McDonald's asked the Federal Court for permission to appeal against that decision but was denied.

'We are very much relieved. We hope to expand. This is what we wanted to do from the beginning and we were stalled for eight years,' said A.M.S.P. Suppiah, the owner of McCurry.

'I am so happy ... we have nothing in similarity with them at all. That's how we have felt all this while,' said his wife, Kanageswary Suppiah.

The Appeal Court said McCurry's signboard has white and gray letters against a red background with a picture of a smiling chicken giving a double thumbs-up, in contrast to McDonald's red and yellow 'M' logo.

McCurry also serves only Indian food, not competing with McDonald's Western menu, the court said.

McDonald's began operations in Malaysia in 1982 and has 137 outlets in the south-east Asian country.

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The fast food giant McDonald's has lost a David v Goliath legal battle against a Malaysian curry restaurant which used the term 'McCurry'.

The eight-year legal dispute ended when Malaysia's highest court ruled in favour of the curry house, in Kuala Lumpur.

After the trademark battle, the federal court rejected a McDonald's Corporation appeal against an earlier judgement that had allowed the curry restaurant to use the 'Mc' prefix. McDonald's was also ordered to pay costs.

The owner of McCurry, which includes fish-head curry on its menu, successfully argued that the name stood for Malaysian chicken curry.

McDonald's gets very touchy when it feels its name is being taken in vain, and once attempted to force the Oxford English Dictionary to change its definition of the word 'McJob'.

However, the US company's efforts to protect its name have sometimes backfired.

In the mid-90s, it tried force a restaurant called McDonald's in Kingston, Jamaica, to change its name to avoid confusion.

But the restaurant, which sold curried goat and jerk chicken, won the case and a Jamaican judge ordered the US McDonald's to call itself Golden Arches.

Then there was the 15-year UK McLibel saga over a critical pamphlet by two British activists.

Dave Morris and Helen Steel, a postman and an unemployed gardener, secured a partial victory against McDonald's, resulting in embarrassing media coverage of the fast food giant.

Lawyers must be lovin' it.

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