Sriracha, the beautifully flavorful pepper sauce, has a very special place in my fridge, right between the bloody mary mix and the hollandaise sauce. Why? Well, because it bunks with the other breakfast essentials in the Geigner household, that's why. Where else can you find Sriracha? Well, pretty much everywhere else
, even incorporated in the products of other food companies, like Subway, Heinz and Frito-Lay. How is this possible? Through, as you might expect, a complicated series of licensing arrangements?
No, it's possible because David Tran, the boss at Sriracha makers Huy Fong Foods, never filed to trademark the Sriracha brand
. And he can't be bothered to give any shits about trademarking it today because he's too busy raking in roughly all the money.
Tran, who now operates his family-owned company Huy Fong Foods out of a 650,000-square-foot facility in Irwindale, doesn't see his failure to secure a trademark as a missed opportunity. He says it's free advertising for a company that's never had a marketing budget. It's unclear whether he's losing out: Sales of the original Sriracha have grown from $60 million to $80 million in the last two years alone.
"Everyone wants to jump in now," said Tran, 70. "We have lawyers come and say 'I can represent you and sue' and I say 'No. Let them do it.'" Tran is so proud of the condiment's popularity that he maintains a daily ritual of searching the Internet for the latest Sriracha spinoff.
It's as though Tran were channeling a Techdirt writer with this kind of stuff. The infringement others want him to combat is instead seen as free advertising, propelling sales and spurring on growth coupled with a good-humor attitude towards "rip-offs." We'd accuse him of infringing on our playbook, but that just wouldn't be in the spirit of the example he's setting. Tran goes on to note his belief that more exposure through use of his product's name will mean even further growth.
Some competitors of Tran are confused, and it's kind of funny to hear their reaction.
Tony Simmons, chief executive of the McIlhenny Co., makers of Tabasco, said Tran's Sriracha sauce was the "gold standard" for Sriracha-style sauces, which has largely come to mean any dressing that packs a piquant punch of chili paste, vinegar, garlic and sugar. Simmons was reassured by his lawyers that Tabasco would have no problem releasing a similar sauce using the name Sriracha.
"We spend enormous time protecting the word 'Tabasco' so that we don't have exactly this problem," Simmons said. "Why Mr. Tran did not do that, I don't know."
Well, because he's too busy being the "gold standard" of the thing you're trying to get it on using his
brand's name. This means that Tobasco, in this case, is advertising Tran's product for him, all the more so when his is admittedly the best around. How is Simmons not
getting this? And the best part of this is that the USPTO has already issued several decisions stating that the single word "sriracha" on its own is now too generic for any of these pretenders to trademark for themselves. Chalk up another
victory for Tran, who allowed the use of his brand name so widely that he's effectively protected against someone trying to come along and lock it up.
Well done all around.