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June 27, 2023 Feature

Meet Me at McDo’s: The Effect of Global Expansion on Well-Known Trademarks

C. Nicole Gaither

©2023. Published in Landslide, Vol. 15, No. 4, June/July 2023, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

When traveling overseas, some of us become true tourists. We try local cuisines, shop in local stores, and try local brands. But some of us are more adventurous. We seek out American brands on foreign soil. We might find a product or restaurant that looks familiar—logo, packaging, or signature colors—but the name is entirely different from the one we know.

Your favorite American product might be hard to find if you do not know its local brand name. Consider this your “Global Trademark Travel Guide.”

The Product Is Still the Same; It Just Has a Different Name

Why would major companies with an international presence use a different trademark in other markets? There are a few reasons:

  • the original trademark has an adverse meaning in the local language;
  • the original trademark suggests something completely different in the local market or culture;
  • the original trademark was already in use or too similar to an existing brand; or
  • a company acquired an existing brand and kept the trademark to maintain brand loyalty and the associated goodwill.

A brand’s goodwill could be valued at more than all the company’s physical assets combined. That brand value is based on recognition of the company’s trademarks. Branding plans focus on marketing to local cultures while maintaining customer loyalty. Still, companies must consider the trademark issues they may face in selecting a mark that will be used in a foreign market. This is challenging because of the territorial nature of trademark law and the separate trademark registration systems in other countries.

Trademark rights are limited to the territories where rights have been secured. Almost every country in the world has a trademark registration system. Registration in one country does not protect a trademark automatically in other countries. And even if a company applies for registration in another country, rights might not be granted based on that country’s trademark laws. Registration may be denied because the mark lacks distinctiveness or there is a prior use or registration.

Some countries, such as the United States, follow the first-to-use trademark system. Applicants with marks used in commerce first have trademark rights and are granted priority where they are used. First-to-use priority of a mark applies whether the mark is registered or unregistered at the time of actual use in commerce. In these countries, priority is not necessarily given to an applicant for being the first to apply for registration.

Other countries recognize the first-to-file trademark system. Applicants that are the first to apply for registration of their marks are given trademark rights and priority over others, regardless of actual use of the marks by the applicants or the existence of prior users of the same marks in commerce.

Therefore, depending on a country’s trademark regime, a company might not have rights in a mark that has been in use and has a global presence. This matters in countries where unscrupulous local enterprises adopt foreign trademarks intentionally to trade on the well-known brand’s goodwill. Those companies must choose between buying “the right to use [their] trademark or relinquishing efficiencies and inherent goodwill by launching under a new brand in the new territory.”

You Will Find Pancakes at Hungry Jack’s Down Under

Are you searching for a Whopper in Australia? You might be surprised to see a restaurant with the look and feel of a U.S. Burger King, except inside that famous hamburger bun logo, you will find the name “Hungry Jack’s.” It is the Australian Burger King. Pancakes are sold there, along with brekky rolls and a Tropical Whopper featuring fresh pineapple and BBQ sauce.

In 1971, Burger King expanded into the Australian market by granting franchise rights to an Australian company. A small food shop in Adelaide had already registered “Burger King” with the Australian trademark office. Australia grants trademark registration rights to the first applicant to file or the first user of the mark in Australia. Thus, Burger King would only be allowed to use the mark if it acquired the rights from the shop in Adelaide. After negotiations to buy the trademark failed, the restaurant began operating under Hungry Jack’s, “a pancake mix brand owned in Australia by Pillsbury Co., the then-owner of the Burger King chain.”

Around 1990, the relationship between Burger King Corporation (BKC) and its Australian franchisee became acrimonious. A few years later, after unsuccessful attempts to buy the franchisee out, BKC purchased four Hungry Jack’s locations and rebranded them as Burger King. In 1998, BKC planned to open more Burger King–branded restaurants in Australia. This plan came to a screeching halt when the Hungry Jack’s franchisee successfully sued. The Supreme Court of New South Wales held that BKC “embarked on a deliberate strategy to win back [the Australian] market.”

BKC and the Hungry Jack’s franchisee finally agreed to move forward under the Hungry Jack’s brand in 2003. As it turned out, Australian consumers preferred the Hungry Jack’s brand because it was a local business.

When in Québec . . .

Craving some chicken of the Kentucky variety? Kentucky Fried Chicken kicked the extra letters into the bucket to become KFC in most places worldwide several years ago. But if you are looking for the Colonel and his original recipe in Québec, Canada, brush up on your French because KFC goes by PFK, or Poulet Frit Kentucky.

The first Canadian Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise opened in 1953 under the same name as the U.S. brand. But in 1977, Québec passed the Charter of the French Language (Charter) to enforce French as the city’s official language. This meant that “all large retailers [must] serve customers in French and post signs that are predominately, or entirely, in French.” To comply with the law, KFC changed its name, updated the language on its menus, and ensured its employees at those locations spoke to customers in French.

Six American retailers successfully sued over the law, and Québec modified it in 2016. The amended version required a French generic term or slogan to appear on exterior public signage within the same visual field as the non-French trademark. PFK did not go back to the original KFC trademark in Québec, even though it could have done so.

Recently, Québec adopted Bill 96, another amendment to the Charter. Beginning on June 1, 2025, Québec will require French translations of unregistered non-French trademarks. For registered non-French trademarks, French terminology must appear predominantly along with the non-French trademark.

The Poulet Frit Kentucky, PFK, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and KFC trademarks are all registered with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). And since KFC operates as PFK in Québec, Bill 96 will have no impact on the brand.

You Say Chips; They Say Crisps

PepsiCo owns Frito-Lay, which manufactures several snack brands, including Lay’s potato chips. In 1989, Pepsi purchased two British snack food makers, Walkers Crisps and Smith Crisps. If you long for Lay’s while in the United Kingdom, you will not find them at the neighborhood chippy. Head to ASDA, which Walmart owns, to buy Walkers crisps. And if you are traveling in Egypt or Australia, request Chipsy or Smith’s.

Are you more of a chocolate fan? You should take notes to remember these U.K. versions because it is almost as confusing as ordering bacon in Australia. If the chocolate and nougat 3 Musketeers candy bar is your favorite, pick up a Milky Way. Want a chocolate and caramel Milky Way bar? Enjoy a Mars bar.

How much simpler would it be to get a Dove bar? Be careful what you ask for in the United Kingdom or Ireland. You will probably get an actual bar of soap. If you still want that Dove bar, think out of this world because a Galaxy bar is what you will get.

McLanguages Around the Globe

How about hitting up a tried-and-true favorite? With billions of burgers sold worldwide, Mickey D’s, as McDonald’s is affectionately known in the United States, is considered one of the most famous fast-food chains in the world. As a result, it has its own “McLanguage.” The branding elements are the same worldwide, but the menu items available make it worth adding McD’s to your must-see list.

There are over 1,500 McDonald’s locations in France. “McDo” provides a café-like experience with pastries like croissants and macarons. It boasts several vegetarian sandwich options on a brioche bun. A McBaguette with Camembert cheese is a limited-time menu offering. Of course, the Big Mac is always an option. But when translated into French, the Big Mac is “Gros Mec,” which means “Big Pimp” in English. So the French call it “le Big Mac.”

Other McDonald’s nicknames include: “Macca’s” in Australia, “Mak Kee” in Hong Kong, “Makku” in Japan, “Mekkes” in Germany, “Mec” in Romania, and “McDick’s” in Canada.

“Diet” Is Taboo

Planning to order a Diet Coke with that Big Mac? If you are in the parts of Europe or Africa where Coca-Cola products are sold, request a Coca-Cola Light. According to Coca-Cola’s South African website, Coca-Cola Light is “both sugar-free and calorie-free.” The packaging is almost identical to Diet Coke’s packaging. But the term “diet” is not used in certain countries to describe products low in calories. The sweeteners used for Coca-Cola Light are “formulated for each country based on consumer preference.”

Unlike some of the previous branding decisions mentioned above, Coca-Cola is an example of a company that recognized that flexibility was necessary to succeed in the international community. The international market forced Coca-Cola to conform to industry practices for its branding.

This Bud’s for You (Everywhere Except the Czech Republic)

Brussels-based Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABInBev) owns beer brands such as Corona, Stella Artois, and the “king of beers,” Budweiser (Bud). However, ABInBev has been fighting trademark issues with a brewery in the Czech Republic for almost a century. The Budweiser Budvar Brewery (Budvar) sells a similarly named beer and uses similar colors, designs, and slogans.

Budvar has been brewing beer in the town of Budweis since the 13th century. But both brands launched in their present form around the same time. Bud started in 1876, and Budvar started in 1895. Both companies export their products, which explains why they have been feuding since 1906. Both companies have pivoted and rebranded in certain markets. Budvar sells under the brand Czechvar in the United States, while ABInBev sells under the brand Bud in most parts of the European Union.

Both Budweiser brands are offered in the same stores, right next to each other, in markets such as Britain. Customers trying to decide which Bud is for them are probably doing it while standing in the retail aisles.

Clean It in a Flash

Staying overseas for an extended period of time and need some cleaning products? Grab a bottle of Flash liquid cleaner with Marseille soap, a Flash Speedmop, and a Flash Duster. You will not see the usual muscle-bound Mr. Clean or the Swiffer swoosh logo on these Proctor & Gamble U.K. products. Why?

The iconic Mr. Clean is known as “Mr. Proper” or a translation in other countries. He is “Don Limpio” in Spain, “Pan Proper” in Poland, “Monsieur Propre” in France, and “Meister Proper” in Germany. But in the United Kingdom, “Mr. Clean” was already in use. Therefore, “Flash” was chosen in its place.

If you watch enough BritBox or Acorn, you will hear the term “hoovering.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, hoovering is “the act of cleaning floors or other surfaces with a vacuum cleaner.” Hoover is a registered trademark in the United Kingdom, but it is the most “generic term for a vacuum cleaner in the United Kingdom.” Customers have asked for a “Dyson Hoover” or an “LG Hoover.” It seems like it is only a matter of time before Hoover loses its trademark rights in the United Kingdom due to genericide.

Nova Legend Is a No Go

And finally, the tale about Chevrolet Nova’s poor sales in Spanish-speaking countries is false. Legend had it that because “no va” means “no go” in Spanish, Nova roughly translated to “doesn’t go.” The name did not affect the car’s sales. The car actually sold well in Mexico and Venezuela.


Thanks to the internet and globalization efforts, it is not uncommon for a brand’s products to be “preceded by their reputation abroad.” They may be well-known because of social media, web presence, and overseas travel.

This raises some interesting questions for companies planning global expansion to consider. Does a brand have “different values when developed, nurtured and adapted to use in local markets?” Does a name itself “guarantee . . . a business’s success?” Based on the above, the answer to these questions might be, “It depends.”

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    C. Nicole Gaither

    SageHaus Legal LLP

    C. Nicole Gaither is a cofounding partner at SageHaus Legal LLP in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she focuses her practice on trademark and copyright protection, monitoring, enforcement, and licensing.