“…we have to ask all restaurants, large and small, to refrain from using the trademark Pho in their name. And with what we think is a fair amount of time to rename… ”
– Stephen and Juliette Wall, Founders of Pho:
The above quote was from an email received today from Libby Andrews, Head of Marketing, Pho Holdings Limited. It appears that Pho Holdings Limited, owner of ‘Pho Café’ and ‘Pho to Go’ have successfully trademarked the word ‘Pho’ for multiple categories including “noodle soups”. A small independent called “Mo Pho” received a letter from Pho Cafe requesting that they cease using the word Pho in their name.
It is not unusual for a restaurant to trademark their name in order to protect their identity. However there has been a huge outcry in the food community as Pho, a rice noodle soup, is the national dish of Vietnam. Many on twitter as comparing this to a trademark on the word “Curry” or “Fish & Chips”.
I am not a lawyer, however I did go though the trademark process for my own business and was refused a trademark on the basis that our name was “too generic” and “descriptive”. Another food lover and blogger is a trademark lawyer by profession. Her analysis of the situation questions whether the Pho trademark should have been granted at all.
My thoughts are that businesses should have the right to protect their own intellectual property. If they had “invented” the Pho dish I would agree with Pho Cafe. However, since Pho originated in the early 20th century in northern Vietnam (Source Wikipedia)
In this case, I don’t understand how they can claim this as their intellectual property.
What have they trademarked?
Pho the restaurant name, or Pho the dish?
In their defence, they claim that they have trademarked the word “Pho” just for the name, not for the dish.
@gnomeinacage We haven't TMed pho descriptively, just as our restaurant name. Did many years ago&roll out has been happening, albeit slowly.
— Pho (@PhoRestaurant) September 24, 2013
However, this seems to be directly contradicted by their Trademark Application which includes the following;
“Rice and noodle products; noodle soups; flour and preparations made from cereals; breads; pastries; sauces (condiments); snack foods; sandwiches and baguettes; prepared meals; soya; soya products; tofu; tea and other infusions; pickles and sauces; coffee and coffee substitutes; iced coffee; ready made tea and coffee beverages; prepared products made wholly or principally of any of the above.”
I have asked them for clarification on this point this afternoon, I have not received a response as yet.
What do I think?
The logical extension of Pho Holdings Limited’s actions is that I could open a business called ‘Burger’ and force “Honest Burger”, “Burger King” and “Dirty Burger” all to change their name, even though they have been in business longer than I have and their company names contain the name of an existing recognised dish.
You decide for yourselves. This is the email I received from Pho Holdings Limited this afternoon and my original email below.
Thanks for getting in touch about this — I appreciate being able to fill you in on our side of the story. Please see below for answers to your questions from Stephen and Juliette Wall, the founders of Pho.
“We made the decision six years ago to trademark Pho, when Vietnamese food wasn’t as common on the high street and we only had one restaurant, to protect what we hoped would eventually become a successful restaurant business.
The trademark we own simply means only we can operate a restaurant under the name Pho (in the UK) as our restaurant brand name, but of course the word can be used in many other different types of businesses, and in many other ways (descriptively, menus, etc.)
With plans to grow over the next few years, it’s important to us to maintain the trust of our customers, as well as to protect our name. While we regret that asking other restaurants to change their name is part of the process, we are not, and we would not, ask anyone to shut down, stop operating or change their menu.
We’re following IP law to protect our brand, which means we have to ask all restaurants, large and small, to refrain from using the trademark Pho in their name. And with what we think is a fair amount of time to rename, we know the country’s independent Vietnamese restaurants will continue to do well and serve their local communities.”
Stephen and Juliette Wall, Founders, Pho
The above is the reply to my email with these questions…
Thanks for getting in contact.
Regarding the storm about the Pho Trademark. Can you please clarify the following.
1. What did you request of Mo Pho in your correspondence with them?
2. In Trademark UK00002449151 (http://www.ipo.gov.uk/tmcase/Results/1/UK00002449151) Pho appears to have registered “PHO”, “Pho” and “pho” under class 42 (Provision of Restaurant Services). Is this the trademark which you believe ‘Mo Pho’ to be infringing? If not, which trademark are you referring to?
3. There are multiple restaurants in the UK who use “Pho” in their title. Why are you specifically targeting “Mo Pho”?
3. Pho Cafes appears to have also registered trade marks for “Pho” in class 30 which explicitly includes “noodle soups”. However you stated in your correspondance in twitter “We haven’t TMed pho descriptively, just as our restaurant name.” (https://twitter.com/PhoRestaurant/statuses/382458399117438976) – Can you please clarify.
3. Do you believe that Mo Pho is currently infringing on your trademark by using the word Pho in their name or is their logo too similar to your own?
5. What do you say to those who object to Pho Cafe trademarking the name of a Vietnamese national dish. (i.e. those who compare this to trademarking “Curry” or “Fish & Chips”).
If you have any additional statement to make please feel free to add this to the reply.