The Memo: McDonald's loses EU trademark for chicken Big Macs

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McDonald's loses EU trademark for chicken Big Macs

Emily Dunham - 10 June 2024

Everyone knows the iconic Big Mac, a burger with two beef patties, gherkins, lettuce, onion, cheese and the world-famous Big Mac sauce. Don’t worry, this classic isn’t going anywhere, but a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) last week means that McDonald’s will no longer have the right to exclusively use the label ‘Big Mac’ in certain contexts. Whilst the iconic burger itself remains untouched, McDonald’s no longer owns the trademark in relation to chicken products and the names of companies. It’s taken quite a while to get to this point, though, so it’s worth detailing the legal battle that led to this decision.  

McDonald’s registered the ‘Big Mac’ trademark in the EU all the way back in 1996. However, in 2017, Supermac’s (a much smaller chain) made an initial application to have it revoked, which has led to the labelling of this as a ‘David v Goliath’ challenge. For the uninitiated, Supermac’s is a chain of fast-food outlets in Ireland, with 120 locations across the country that sell beef burgers, chicken burgers and chicken nuggets. The company filed to have the trademark removed because McDonald’s had blocked it from registering ‘Supermac’s’ as a trademark while it was looking to expand outside of Ireland and into the EU.  

The case was first taken to the EU Intellectual Property Office, which found that McDonald’s had not proven its genuine use of the trademark as a restaurant name. Supermac’s took this as a big win, but it was short-lived; McDonald’s brought an appeal to the EU Trademark Authority and won. Supermac’s then took the case to the next highest court, the ECJ, where it regained its victory last week. Having not used the term ‘Big Mac’ in relation to poultry products in the EU for five consecutive years, McDonald’s no longer has the right to exclusively use the term within this context. As a result, other companies can use the term in their restaurant names and the names of menu items. McDonald’s now has one more chance to appeal in the EU as the ruling can still go to the Court of Justice of the European Union, Europe’s highest court, but the company has not yet commented on whether it intends to appeal the decision again.

After Brexit, Supermac’s also applied for a trademark in the UK which was, unsurprisingly, opposed by McDonald’s. That’s a separate issue following the UK’s departure from the EU, but it’s currently working its way through the British Trademark Court with a hearing expected later this year. It’ll be interesting to see how a UK decision may differ from that made in the EU, so you'll certainly want to keep an eye out for that!