–Catlan McCurdy, Attorney
On a recent trip to New York City, I found myself at the infamous Momofuku Milk Bar selecting some interesting delicacies. For anyone who hasn’t been, Momofuku Milk Bar can best be described as a bakery, but it’s unlike any bakery I have ever been to, and you’re talking to one lady who loves baked goods. Let us not forget that my formative years were spent in the back of a bakery filling donuts with buttercream to earn a little pocket money on Saturday mornings in high school. I digress.
Instead of a well-lit store front with numerous display cases and a dispenser spitting paper numbers into eager hands, I found myself in a nearly empty dark room lit only by dimmed mood lighting and a neon pink sign shouting MILK. The menu items are written on a chalkboard wall, and the biggest difference of all: a few of the menu items bore a ® or ™ symbol.
David Chang, chef/owner for the Momofuku chain has successfully registered the COMPOST COOKIE and CRACK PIE marks pertaining to menu items at the Milk Bar, and there is a registration pending for the CEREAL MILK mark. The Compost Cookie and Crack Pie are baked goods, while Cereal Milk is actually, wait for it, ice cream. I bet your rocky road is looking pretty lame right now compared to Cereal Milk ice cream.
MOMOFUKU MILK BAR is also a registered mark, and there are a number of pending registrations for menu items available at other Momofuku locations.
The actions of David Chang are actually quite brilliant. Protecting the name of the restaurant is something we are all familiar with, but protecting individual menu items might just be the next logical step for some businesses. Momofuku, through its acclaimed pastry chef, Christina Tosi, has created one of a kind desserts with equally recognizable names. Recipes cannot be protected under intellectual property law, other than as trade secrets, and Momofuku is keeping no secrets. They have a cookbook for goodness sakes. So why not protect the next best part of the food – the name!
Staking claim to a trademark this early will likely help Momofuku avoid litigation later on down the road when others begin reproducing the cookies, or pies, or ice cream. Momofuku only has locations in New York, Sydney, and Toronto, but the baked goods can be shipped just about anywhere in the U.S. This nationwide distribution could have potentially helped them secure common law trademark rights in certain locations, but the federal registration provides nationwide constructive use. Taking trademark protection to individual menu items is a great idea for small businesses that want to protect interesting menu choices but aren’t able to achieve that nationwide common law protection. Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin no word on whether Buddy Squirrel is still fighting over who owns FAIRY FOOD. Filing for a trademark sooner could have helped them out of the priority fight the company is currently battling.
In closing, just a small reminder that Valentine’s Day fast approaching, and as I believe our firm’s address is widely known, anyone interested in sending a Crack Pie my way is more than welcome.