Vietnamese chain Pho accused of bullying after asking Mo Pho site to change name

24 September 2013 by
Vietnamese chain Pho accused of bullying after asking Mo Pho site to change name

Vietnamese chain restaurant Pho has experienced a social media backlash after it asked another Vietnamese restaurant, called Mo Pho, to change its name as it "infringed copyright".

Lewisham "local" restaurant Mo Pho, which serves Vietnamese food including "pho", a traditional noodle soup, has been in operation for several years, but has now been asked to change its title after Pho said it had trademarked its name, and that the Mo Pho brand therefore infringed copyright and could be "confusing".

The controversy has played out over social media, with Mo Pho taking to networking site Facebook to call the claims "unfair". Its full statement said that the "feel of the brand was different to any established restaurants" and it expressed "surprise that trademarking the word pho was possible" due to its place as a widely-available Vietnamese national dish.

Nonetheless, the restaurant appears to have complied, saying that it has taken down its signage until it can be rebranded, in order to avoid the "big risk" that "taking on a successful chain such as Pho" would entail.

Twitter users have suggested that the local pho shop was unlikely to be confused with the chain, while other users have scorned the news, saying that trademarking the single word "pho" was like trademarking "pizza", "burger" , while Guardian food writer Luke Mackay tweeted that it was like "trying to trademark ‘Fish and Chips'".

Even well-known chefs have weighed in on the matter, including Dan Doherty, executive chef of City site Duck & Waffle, who has called the law that allowed the trademarking of the word "pho" as "a joke". However, he also stated that he understood why a restaurant might need to trademark its name.

In response to the backlash, @PhoRestaurants today tweeted: "Legally, we have to protect our brand from everyone; otherwise we won't be protected at all. It's all or nothing."

It added that we "haven't trademarked Pho descriptively, just as our restaurant name", which it said it was "forced to do a few years back after another restaurant opened as us".

In an official statement, Pho said: "We made the decision six years ago to trademark Pho, when Vietnamese food wasn't as common on the high street.

"The trademark we own simply means only we can operate a restaurant under the name Pho (in the UK) as our restaurant brand name, but of course the word can be used in many other different types of businesses, and in many other ways (descriptively, menus, etc.) s

"It's important to us to maintain the trust of our customers, as well as to protect our name.

"We're following IP law to protect our brand, which means we have to ask all restaurants, large and small, to refrain from using the trademark Pho in their name. And with what we think is a fair amount of time to rename, we know the country's independent Vietnamese restaurants will continue to do well and serve their local communities."

It added: "While we regret that asking other restaurants to change their name is part of the process, we are not, and we would not, ask anyone to shut down, stop operating or change their menu."

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