Excellent article in QSR Magazine about In-N-Out Burger being drawn into a battle over its identity in China even though it has no presence in China and, indeed, has been reluctant to expand beyond the West Coast. In short, a start-up restaurant in Shanghai called CaliBurger, whose founders include former Californians, trademarked numerous items from In-N-Out Burger’s menu (including its “secret” menu) in Asia and portions of Europe, such as the Double-Double, Animal Style, and Protein Style burgers. Those menu items, however, were subject to U.S. trademark registrations by In-N-Out Burger. According to QSR:
In-N-Out Burger responded swiftly by filing a complaint in a U.S. District Court against CaliBurger [and two of its founders] in September for trademark infringement, a legal move enabled by one major detail: CaliBurger was an American company, registered to an address in Diamond Bar, California.
In-N-Out Burger’s claims included Trademark Infringement, Trademark Counterfeiting, and Trade Dress Infringement. A copy of the First Amended Complaint is here. The lawsuit, filed on September 14, 2011, ultimately resolved in January 2012 pursuant to a confidential settlement agreement and the copycat menu names were changed. See QSR Magazine’s complete article here.
The experience of In-N-Out Burger demonstrates that food and restaurant companies must remain vigilante in protecting their intellectual property rights overseas even if they have no intent to expand beyond the United States.