There are few hings more totemically American, at least in origin, as McDonald's. The arches. The colors. The menu items. The subsequent guilt and shame that come with each meal. It's a brand that's been built over decades, and one that serves as the foundation of what we know as fast food today. What we see in the logo and understand with the name is that we are going to get food of a particular quality at an understood price and in short order. That understanding and assumption is the essence of any brand, and it's why McDonald's and others go to such great lengths to protect their brand against what they perceive as a taint or diminution.
It's within that context that we should view the recent case between Ronald's lot and the Irish fast food chain Supermac's, which McDonald's was pursuing on the grounds of trademark infringement. At issue was the use of the "Mc" trademark, which McDonald's was claiming as its exclusive province. The case was brought before the European Union Intellectual Property Office, and that august body determined that McDonald's did not sufficiently prove use over some of the "Mc" trademarks in conjunction with their food, although the court did uphold the mark for their chicken nuggets and several of their sandwiches.
The ruling is the latest chapter in the long-running battle between the two parties, with Supermac founder Pat McDonagh on record as saying that he sought to break up the "Mc"monopoly, or McMonopoly, if you will. (Sorry.) Indeed, one tact taken by Supermac in the case is that the "Mc" prefix is exceedingly common in Ireland and the U.K., and as such is bound to be affixed to the name of any number of other businesses, albeit not necessarily in the fast food space. In the end, the decision from the EUIPO leaves both parties able to claim partial victory and to feel partly aggrieved, which, as with compromises, perhaps points to a fair ruling.
The case of course brings to mind many people's first introduction to the notion of trademark infringement, albeit likely without knowing the name at the time: McDowell's restaurant in Coming to America, a ripoff so shameless that John Amos' Cleo McDowell lived in perpetual fear that the McDonald's folks would come calling, despite his flimsy claims of variance. In its way, the movie actually highlighted the strength of he McDonald's brand; what other restaurant could be so iconic as to be played off of for the purpose of the joke? Despite the minor setback in Ireland, McDonald's remains a fixture in the hearts and minds of those around the world looking for a quick, easy meal, and maybe a romp in the Playplace.