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London Restaurant Trademarks ‘Pho.’ Social Media Battle Ensues.

It may be hard to comprehend how a company can trademark a word as generic as ‘Pho.’ Apparently the British Intellectual Property Office disagrees as 6 years ago, they allowed a glitzy London chain, ‘Pho,’ to do just that.

In what’s become a public relations nightmare, last week the chain served a small Vietnamese restaurant, Mo Pho, with legal documents, claiming they had infringed on their trademark. The chain has since dropped the legal action but has sparked a debate about what kind of foods should be eligible for trademarking.

In an article in The Guardian, the author compares trademarking ‘Pho’ to ‘Pizza’ or ‘fish’n’chips.’ The owner of Pho claimed that they weren’t trademarking the dish, but rather the company name, to protect their brand. According to the company’s Twitter account, the trademarked the word when they were almost put out of business by another London restaurant using the same moniker.

After a tidal wave of negative social media posts, Pho announced that they were dropping their legal action against Mo Pho:

Pho’s marketing director, Libby Andrews, apologized for the action and hinted that it was taken a bit out of context, "We really didn't mean to suggest we had ownership of the national dish of Vietnam."

The Guardian concludes that while some suggest that ‘Pho’ is too generic to be trademarked, those reviewing the trademark application might not have known what ‘Pho’ was.

“Six years ago, how many people really knew what pho was? The head-banging foodie types, who congregate around the fabulous Vietnamese cafes on the Kingsland Road in North London knew about it, of course. But the rest of the country? Probably not. …The law…appears remarkably unresponsive to the fickleness of food trends.”

Stories like this can make one appreciate the brand lawlessness of Vietnam where this kind of dispute would never happen. Unless you’re a business owner, of course. Then you’re probably as mad as Tom and Jerry.

[The Guardian // Photo via sapuche]

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