The UK’s Pho Real Trademark on Pho
A UK food company trademarks the word “Pho” and attempts to enforce the trademark against an independent Vietnamese restaurant named Mo Pho. Yes, the common and descriptive name for the Vietnamese national soup is a registered mark in the UK. How did this happen?
A little over 6 years ago, Pho Holdings Limited filed an application and received the trademark for the word “Pho.” While the company argues they only trademarked the word for their company name, the actual application on file states the trademark covers meat, fish, poultry game, and rice and noodle products. According to an online dictionary, these are precisely the ingredients used to make pho.
Pho Holdings is arguing that they trademarked the name years ago when Vietnamese food was not as popular as it is today in the UK. This argument doesn’t work in the context of pho because the name merely describes a soup dish and is therefore descriptive. Pho Holdings also included a logo with the trademark to make it more distinctive. The logo in its entirety could be used against other restaurants if they are attempting to “pass off” as Pho Holdings, but the independent Vietnamese restaurant in question was using the name “Mo Pho” and it is unclear if the logo appeared similar to Pho Holdings’. Pho Holdings would have to show that consumers would be likely confused by Mo Pho’s restaurant and that confusion would harm Pho Holdings’ brand. Although pho got off to a slow start in the UK when the trademark was granted, it’s popularity makes pho as a trademark for food a weak and generic word that is unlikely to be enforceable. Pho Holdings later received better legal advice and has agreed not to enforce their trademark against independent restaurants.