June 2017. Never have so many American fast food chains touched down in the Netherlands as in 2017. Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizzahut, Taco Bell, Five Guys and TGI Friday, to name but a few. But for one US fast food company – Wendy’s – the Dutch market has proved a no-go area. The cause of the blockade? A small snackbar called Wendy’s in Goes, a small city in the southern part of the Netherlands.
Wendy’s snackbar opened in 1988 and was named after the daughter of owner Raymond Warrens. Warrens, who registered a Benelux trademark for the name Wendy’s in 1995, has been embroiled in a legal dispute with the US hamburger giant for years.
In 2012 the Court of Appeal in The Hague ruled that the US company’s (older) trademark rights in the Benelux had lapsed due to non-use, leaving the Dutch snackbar with the oldest rights to the name in the region.
But the Americans won’t give up so easily. In 2013 they applied to register Wendy’s as a Community trademark in the EU, prompting the snackbar to file an opposition, based on its Benelux registration. The fast food chain then countered by claiming that Warrens’ rights to the brand name Wendy’s in the Benelux had lapsed because the name had not been subjected to ‘normal use’ throughout the region, given that the snackbar was merely a small enterprise in the centre of Goes.
Local snackbar is ‘normal use’
However, in February this year the District court in Middelburg upheld the snackbar’s trademark rights to the name Wendy’s for its catering services, and ruled that even limited use of the name on the facade, windows, till slips and work clothing of a local snackbar was enough to constitute ‘normal use’. A wider geographical spread was not necessary to uphold trademark rights. The US company has now lodged an appeal.
This article was originally published in de Volkskrant newspaper.