Trade mark: storm in a soup bowl.

Restaurant in Hot Water for Trade Marking ‘Pho’

Registering a trade mark grants the owner the exclusive rights to commercially use, licence or sell it for the goods and services that it is registered under. In our brand conscious word of consumerism, there are endless trade marks, each with noteworthy value.

The laws governing registration of a trade mark support the fact that a trade mark is used to distinguish the goods and services of one trader from those of another. Over time, the laws have evolved from recognising letters, numbers, words or phrases to the brave new world of sounds, smells and shapes. How far will this evolution extend?

Can the name of a country’s national dish be trade marked?

A tiff over use of the word ‘pho’ in London raised some eyebrows over the fact that a restaurant registered the trade mark for the word ‘pho’, which is the name of a Vietnamese soup (and its national dish). Pho Holdings Limited, which operates a chain of Pho Café Vietnamese restaurants, sent a letter of demand to the local Mo Pho restaurant demanding that it change its name to avoid continuing to infringe its ‘Pho’ (registered in the UK since 27 May 2005).

 Hot property

Pho Holdings Limited appears to be sitting on some ‘hot’ intellectual property in the form of the registered ‘Pho’ trade mark. Despite this, it recently made a business decision that it was more appropriate to ‘cool down’ the situation and withdraw its claim. Faced with social media outrage from interested parties and foodies furious, about the company’s bullying attempt to monopolise the right to use the name of a soup, Pho Café tweeted that it would not be pursuing action against Mo Po.


Surely nowadays that more and more pho soups are served around the world, attempting to register a word as generic as ‘pho’ would be susceptible to rejection (like trying to register the word ‘hamburger’ as a trade mark). However, several years ago that may not have been the case when not that many people would have known what a ‘pho’ was. For those futurists out there, creating innovative brands and registering trade marks for them may prove an extremely valuable form of intellectual property (whether or not it is actively enforced).

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Posted on: 29 September 2013