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The Papas and the Pappas: Burger Joint Rebrands Over Trademark Dispute

from the no-good-deed dept

We're going to keep repeating this until it becomes common knowledge: trademark law is designed to keep the public from being confused as to the source of a good or service, not as some mechanism for businesses to lock up language in a competitive marketplace. In other words, if there is no risk of customer confusion, trademark laws very rarely come into play in terms of disputes or infringement.

Which brings us to Papa's Burgers in Texas and its announcement that it will be changing its name and branding.

So, a company that has existed as Papa's Burgers for 8 years is changing its name due to a C&D notice. So what's going on here? Well, the company decided to finally get around to trademarking its name but was advised by its counsel that there was another large restaurant group that had a similar name. That company was Pappas Restaurants, which operates a wide swath of venues, such as Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Pappas Seafood House, and, yes, Pappas Burger.

Due to the that input from counsel, Papa's Burgers owner Robert Walker sent a letter to Pappas Restaurants explaining his respect for their business and his intention to trademark his business name. Kind of a nice thing to do. His reward for that was receiving the C&D notice.

Counsel advised Walker that he can fight the trademark since it's a one-letter difference and a different city, but that it could be very costly - upwards of $25,000 just to start the process.

The second option is to rebrand. A difficult decision Walker said, because the restaurant has already received so many public accolades in the nearly 9 years it's been open.

Note that last bit: Papa's Burgers has been operating for 9 years. The C&D notice sent by Pappas Restaurants doesn't say that the company should not use the name in new restaurants; it insists it stops using its name entirely. Except surely Pappas Restaurants would have already heard about all of this and sent a C&D long ago if there was any reason to think there would be public confusion here. And, yet, the company only fired off a C&D once Walker informed them that his business exists and that he planned to file for a trademark. That sure seems to indicate that any worry about customer confusion is unwarranted, no?

Unfortunately, that is now a moot point. Papa's Burgers is changing its name as a result of all of this. Because trademark bullying works.

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Filed Under: burgers, likelihood of confusion, papa, trademark
Companies: papa's burgers, pappas restaurants


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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 14 Dec 2021 @ 6:21pm

    Disagree with Tim G

    I looked at the Pappas Burger logo, and yeah, I can see how a passerby would be confused, so I think Pappas is in the right here. Then again, if "pappas" and "Papa's" were pronounced differently, I stand corrected.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 14 Dec 2021 @ 8:35pm

      Re: Disagree with Tim G

      But then wouldn't it be the new upstart with the 2nd p who would need to find a different name?

      To show up after 8 years and demand that someone rebrand because you now want to use the name isn't how things are supposed to work.

      They aren't in the same geographical area, there isn't likely to be much confusion (despite how stupid humans can be).

      While they are in the "burger" business, it really is hard to understand how much confusion and harm there might be for a national chain vs a single location thats been there for 8 years.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2021 @ 9:44pm

        Re: Re: Disagree with Tim G

        Not a lawyer, but I think it'd be whoever got the trademark first would "win".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        DanJ (profile), 15 Dec 2021 @ 3:34am

        Re: Re: Disagree with Tim G

        That might be true - if they were a new upstart. https://www.pappas.com/about/us/ "The Pappas Brothers opened their first restaurant in 1976..." They've been using the name for 45 years.

        I don't think this was a particular egregious case of trademark bullying. They are clearly in the same business, and the names are close enough that if both had a restaurant in the same city there'd be a real chance of confusion. I suspect they probably were aware of Pappa's but were willing to ignore it until Pappa's prepared to register a trademark and explicitly brought it to their attention. Sure, they could have just opposed the registration and not demanded they stop using it, but lawyers gonna lawyer.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2021 @ 7:59am

      Re: Disagree with Tim G

      If you pronounce Pappas in "English," it sounds different than an "English" pronunciation of Papa's. If you pronounce it in "Greek," it does sound similar to the "English" Papa's. Now I don't know how the brothers pronounce their Greek surname. But that's what the key factor should be here, that Pappas is a surname whereas Papa's means Dad's. Not only in this instance - https://www.papasburgerssatx.com/about - but in the commonly understood meaning of the word. No confusion.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 15 Dec 2021 @ 8:20am

        Re: Re: Disagree with Tim G

        Thank you.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        kallethen, 15 Dec 2021 @ 10:15am

        Re: Re: Disagree with Tim G

        Don't think I agree that the meaning should be the key factor in determining confusion. If I'm talking to a friend about a restaurant I enjoyed and they decide to go but only remember me saying "Papa's" and they look it up... could they get confused at seeing "Papa's" and "Pappas" come up in the results? I think so. We're looking at a one letter difference. And they are both in the restaurant business.

        It still would have been nice to see Pappas try to work with the little Papa's instead of just swinging the C&D hammer...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2021 @ 8:25pm

    What should I be seeing in the large while space between "...changing its name and branding." and "so, a company that has existed..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 14 Dec 2021 @ 8:37pm

    'Merika where the assholes with the deeper pockets & degenerate shysters get to control everything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Peter, 14 Dec 2021 @ 10:59pm

    And trademark bullying exists because........?

    Trademark bullying exists because of the high cost of access to the law in America. Same with plea bargaining. And the people with the deep pockets know it and use it as their own personal thugs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Crafty Coyote, 15 Dec 2021 @ 6:00am

    Trademark- important for telling us when we're buying burgers from a man who knows the way our father cooked beef or a Greek-American chain of restaurants. How else could we know the difference without trademark?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 15 Dec 2021 @ 4:40pm

    so what happens when all words in all of human lanuguage is eventually trademarked (thanks Disney).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2021 @ 4:45pm

    Ironically Pappa's restaurants is Pap.

    Hundreds of Salmonella cases, filthy restauants with literal human faeces violations in the kitchens, employees unmasked with positive COVID tests coughing into the food, and a bunch of other stuff that would make you vomit if you had to eat there. (label changing on long-expired mincemeat and scraping off of furry green mold, being only one example)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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