Irish Fast-Food Upstart Keeps Sticking it to McDonald’s

The world’s largest fast food chain lost its “Big Mac” trademark for chicken sandwiches following a European Union court ruling.

Image Credit: iStock, tofumax

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As the Irish say, do not take the thatch from your roof to buy slates for another man’s house. Or Golden Arches, for that matter. 

McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food chain, lost its “Big Mac” trademark for chicken sandwiches following a European Union court ruling on Wednesday. It marked a win for Irish rival Supermac’s, whose founder has called the whole ordeal a “David versus Goliath” battle. 

What’s in a Name?

The Big Mac is among the best-known fast food items on the planet. Plenty of people above a certain age can still recite its ingredients after decades of commercials: two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun. “Beef” is the key word there, because when McDonald’s trademarked the Big Mac name in 1996, they believed it extended beyond just its burgers. 

Supermac’s disagreed: 

  • Since the mid-2010s, the two chains have litigated about using “Big Mac” and the “Mc” prefix. But in 2019, the EU’s Intellectual Property Office sided with Supermac’s, revoking McDonald’s trademark for some of its products.
  • This week, the EU’s highest court — the European Court of Justice — doubled down on that ruling and decided that McDonald’s can’t exclusively own “Big Mac” for chicken as it couldn’t prove it really used it over the past five years. 

Score One for the Little Guy: High-profile cases over fast-food names may seem silly, but this week’s decision isn’t trivial. Supermac’s is an Irish staple, but it has only about 100 locations compared to McDonald’s nearly 42,000 stores globally. When McDonald’s sued Supermac’s, saying its name too closely resembled McDonald’s, the Irish company said the case crippled its ability to expand into the UK and EU markets. Supermac’s founder Pat McDonagh has said McDonald’s is a “trademark bully” and that Wednesday’s ruling was a “victory for small businesses throughout the world.” Now let’s all celebrate with a real happy meal: Supermac’s 100-piece bucket of mini sausages, and yes, that does exist