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A recent trademark violation lawsuit explains why the burger chain In-N-Out is steamed at a Wichita, Kansas dry cleaner. The dry cleaner, which opened last year, decided to more than just fluff before folding, it decided to go by the name In-N-Out Cleaners, and also used a logo and had signage that was stunningly similar to the famous burger joint.
The dry cleaner, since being notified, has taken down their similar looking signs, both in real life and online, and has also stopped using the name In-N-Out. Nevertheless, the burger chain's lawsuit is persisting, seeking not just compensatory damages, but also punitive damages.
Trademarks, Burgers, and a Trip to the Cleaners
In some situations, separate businesses that operate in different locations and provide different types of goods or services may be able to co-exist with the same name without a trademark violation occurring. However, this is not one of those cases. While In-N-Out Burger may not have any locations anywhere near In-N-Out Cleaners, their claim is unlikely to be held invalid due to a lack of proximity of the businesses.
In the court complaint, the burger company explains that they were notified of the violation because potential customers were confused by the cleaner's logo, and disappointed when they learned the cleaners were not the West Coast burger-meisters.
Additionally, even though the cleaners and burger-makers operate in separate industries, under trademark law, again, this may not matter. The fact that potential customers actually were confused by the cleaners logo shows that there is actual risk of consumer confusion, which is one of the problems that trademark law seeks to regulate.
What It Means to Be Iconic
In-N-Out has garnered a reputation over the years for vigorously defending their trademarks and other iconic features. When they learn of another business using their logo, menu items/names, and incorporating the In-N-Out name, they are generally rather quick to put a stop to it.
Although the phrase In-N-Out seems generic, the iconic fast food chain has spent decades cultivating the brand's image and perception. As a result, having In-N-Out Burger is routinely on California tourists' bucket lists, and when those in non-In-N-Out states see a business with a similar name or logo, disappointment is usually not too far behind when they learn that the similar name or logo is not the real deal.