California Bakery To Relinquish ‘Mochi Muffin’ Trademark After Public Backlash
from the mochi-for-all dept
Funny what a little public shaming can accomplish. It was merely a week or so ago that we were discussing one bakery in California threatening other bakeries for using the term “mochi muffin”, for which the USPTO had somehow granted it a trademark. If you didn’t read the last post and need a quick recap of why this trademark being granted was stupid, “mochi” is merely the name of a rice paste used commonly in Japan around holidays. It’s used to make lots of stuff. A “mochi muffin” is merely a muffin made of mochi, making the trademarked term entirely descriptive. The kind of thing you’re not supposed to be able to trademark.
Well, at the culmination of that last post, I mentioned that there was a decent sized online backlash to all of this. I also mentioned that someone would likely go the legal route to invalidate the trademark at some point. The latter, it seems, won’t occur, because now Third Culture Bakery says it’s going to give the trademark up voluntarily after hearing from the public.
In a social media announcement on Saturday, co-owners Sam Butarbutar and Wenter Shyu called the trademark a “huge oversight” that “ended up being hurtful.”
They said they’ve taken the first steps necessary to release ownership of the trademark, and won’t pursue any trademarks in the future. It’s a major reversal of their position just a few weeks ago, when they described the trademark as an important legal protection for their business. Third Culture secured the trademark in 2018 and has sent cease-and-desist letters to bakeries across the country to demand they stop using the words “mochi muffin.”
Reading between the lines, it’s pretty clear what happened here. The bakery tried to legally threaten other bakeries, got found out by the public, the public got angry, and now the bakery is reversing course. So, while I won’t be pinning any medals on Third Culture for this, this does once again show how public outrage and shaming can, often times, produce better or faster results than going the legal route.
While some of the public backlash was of a variety I wouldn’t condone — such as supposedly harassing phone calls made to its employees while at work — most of it was exactly what you’d expect and want. Angry reviews on Yelp. Notes left on the bakeries social media pages. Other social media groups built up to fight Third Culture’s threats.
Even Third Culture claims that much of the feedback it got was of the constructive type.
Their decision to relinquish the trademark was the result of “thoughtful, meaningful, and constructive emails and notes and letters” received after a Chronicle article detailing the trademark was published two weeks ago. The feedback “guided us to reevaluate what once was absolutely necessary for our survival, but does not serve us anymore,” Butarbutar and Shyu wrote.
Again, this is clearly also Third Culture trying to work the refs that are the public it serves, but the point stands. Activism of this sort works. We need more of it.