McDonald's (MCD) has spent countless hours and millions of dollars protecting its name against the incursions of other companies around the world. Having vanquished San Francisco's McCoffee, Kentucky's Norman McDonald's, England's McMunchies, and the Philippines' MacJoy, the burger behemoth was well-prepared to do battle with McCurry from Malaysia. But after an eight-year legal battle, the unthinkable has happened: mighty McDonald's has struck out.
Some are gleefully gloating. Venues from CNN Asia to The Guardian have crowed about this David and Goliath battle, suggesting that a plucky Malaysian upstart has snatched a righteous victory from its American transgressors. Indeed, poking fun at a global American corporation seems like a victimless crime. McDonald's, the world's largest fast-food chain, is a huge, faceless company, spanning continents, spitting out meals that are deliberately bland and drawing kids in with friendly clowns and Happy Meals. By comparison, McCurry is a tiny Malaysian restaurant that employs 18 people, with a menu unlikely to be mistaken for American-style fast food, offering traditional flavors and authentic cooking methods.
But McDonald's has spent decades and billions to build a brand consumers trust, and to sell products that meet a standard that is, globally speaking, pretty amazing. Order a Big Mac anywhere, and you can be convinced it contains actual beef. (Well, except for India.) The restaurants maintain consistently high cleanliness and service. The chain won't win any Michelin stars, but for anyone looking for a filling meal at a low price, McDonald's is a Mecca.
And McDonald's has invested a fortune in public relations. Ad campaigns, iconic characters, charities: the chain has worked to create a public image as a moral corporate citizen.
It would be one thing if McCurry took its name from its owners -- part of its case rests in the fact that many surnames use the prefix Mc -- but it's hard to see how Malaysia's Suppiah family, McCurry's proprietors, could claim a right to that. In fact, they say the name McCurry is short for Malasian Chicken Curry -- although that doesn't explain why McCurry's brightly lit red-and-white sign evokes the classic McDonald's identity so closely. But questions like that don't really require answers. The thinking behind the name and the sign is fairly transparent: the Suppiahs have obviously co-opted McDonald's reputation to draw in customers.
Unlike his clients, the Suppiahs' lawyer, Sri Devi Nair, has been honest about the situation. Claiming that the ruling grants any restaurant the right to use the prefix Mc, he has stated, "This is a precedent for anyone to follow." Certainly, this seems to be Suppiahs' aim: They're already entertaining offers to franchise McCurry around the world.
Maybe McDonald's, having been denied satisfaction in a Malaysian court, will buy the brand from its erstwhile opponents. Failing that, consumers would be strongly advised to take a good long look before wandering into any restaurants with the prefix Mc in the title.
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