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In-N-Out of Court: Trademark Infringement

Sleepless nights, unwieldy cravings, dissatisfaction with other options... eating a burger from the famous west-coast chain that started in Southern California can leave you wanting more.  But after visiting an In-N-Out Burger fast-food restaurant on the west-side you are warned from trying to appease your condition by replicating the experience where you live.

In-N-Out takes trademark infringement seriously.

According to the Orange County Register, In-N-Out recently settled a copyright infringement action with Nicky's In-N-Out Gyros in Illinois.  The case, filed by In-N-Out at the end of June, claimed that the Chicago-based restaurant copied the west-coast franchise's recognizable yellow arrow in the company's logo.  In-N-Out attorney Arnold Wensinger explained that running a successful franchise is not just milkshakes and burgers, "consumers have come to associate [the] In-N-Out name and arrow with the highest in food quality and freshness...[In-N-Out} will vigorously defend our trademarks and trade-dress against any all infringers." 

And it's not the first time that In-N-Out has sent back an order, it was also successful in a trademark infringement action against a Utah-based burger place, Chadders, for swiping its logo colors and secret menu.  In that 2007 case, the judge ordered a restraining order prohibiting the local burger joint from using trademark protected logos and product names.

How do small businesses protect themselves from trademark infringement? First off, it is important to know what a trademark is and what it is not.  A trademark is a brand name that encompasses words, names, symbols, or devices intended to commercially identify and distinguish particular goods or services from other goods and services.  Companies can complete a federal trademark registration to protect their brand from being lifted by competitors.  Though federal trademark registration is not necessarily required to establish a protectable trademark, it can be a useful preemptive move to constructively and officially put other companies on notice to back off from adopting your brand or logo. 

Small-fry claims, you say? Take a look for yourself:


In-N-Out logo (in-n-out.com)  
(in-n-out.com)

Nicky's In-n-Out (ocregister.com)
(ocregister.com)

Chadder's (http://areallygoodname.com)

(http://areallygoodname.com)


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