A Burrito Bowl Serves as a Lesson in Trademark Infringement
A burrito bowl is at the center of a lawsuit involving two restaurant chains. Chipotle Mexican Grill recently filed a trademark infringement lawsuit just days after the Sweetgreen restaurant chain launched its “Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl.”
In the complaint, Chipotle sent a cease-and-desist notice against the salad chain, asking Sweetgreen to drop “chipotle” from the beginning of the name. To resolve the lawsuit, Sweetgreen renamed the menu item “Chicken + Chipotle Pepper Bowl.”
The lawsuit serves as a lesson on the importance of trademark protection for business owners of all sizes. Knowing what steps to take to protect your name and brand in the market is a vital step to setting up your business to succeed while avoiding costly pitfalls down the road.
Trademark common law
Trademark protection exists in “common law,” meaning business owners don’t have to file for registration in some cases to enjoy the benefits of trademark protection. Rather, if the business owner is using the mark in a geographical area and has a name or brand that is unique enough, he or she can generally use the trademark common law to protect his or her name and/or brand. Business owners will warn everyone about their intention to use common law protections by placing the TM symbol in the corner.
Business owners can also avail themselves of even stronger protections under federal law by registering their marks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). With federal registration, a business owner’s trademark will undergo federal scrutiny to ensure it is trademark-worthy. Approved trademarks are designated with a ® symbol in the corner.
A business owner can pursue a trademark registration with the state in which he or she is transacting business. In Michigan, for example, a business owner may register his or her mark with the state to establish the exclusive ability to be able to use the mark in connection with goods or services throughout the state. State registration is a viable alternative for businesses that fail to meet the use of commerce requirement for federal registration.
Help is available
The answer as to which trademark protections to pursue will vary according to the type of the business and the unique circumstances of the business. To speak with an attorney for assistance, please call 586-726-1000 or visit our website.