Smashburger is a fast-growing burger chain that has a lot of new fans jumping on the bandwagon, because of the tasty, fresh-made comfort food. However, not everyone is happy with the menu selections at this up and coming burger joint.
California burger joint In-N-Out Burger is taking Smashburger to task, and to court, over the naming of some menu items. Fans of the California-based In-N-Out love the Double-Double and Triple-Triple options. And, according to the restaurant, Smashburger is offering menu items that sound far too close to these trademarked selections.
According to the lawsuit, Smashburger’s new “Triple Double” sandwich “looks, smells and sounds” too much like the In-N-Out offerings. These similarities are not homages, according to the suit. They are clear trademark infringements, and In-N-Out is not going to put up with that. According to the suit, Smashburger’s Triple Double…
“(Creates) a likelihood of consumer confusion because actual and prospective customers are likely to believe that In-N-Out has approved or licensed Smashburger’s use of its marks, or that In-N-Out is somehow affiliated or connected with Smashburger or its services.”
Smashburger responded by, essentially, calling the claims unfounded. CEO Tom Ryan said his company’s burger is “not comparable to any In-N-Out menu offering…”
The TD sandwich, added to Smashburger’s menu this past summer, is marketed as “…the stuff burger dreams are made of … two layers of juicy beef, three layers of melted cheese, wrapped up in an artisan bun.”
In a winking riposte, Ryan added that he was “flattered” by the attention his company received from In-N-Out.
And, while Ryan seems to see this lawsuit as ridiculous, In-N-Out appears deadly in earnest. The company even went so far as to file paperwork with the US Patent Office contesting the invention of the Smashburger sandwich.
However, even In-N-Out’s filings don’t really present a clear case. They simply describe their burgers as specific combinations of beef patties and cheese slices. Not exactly the 11 herbs and spices or the “special sauce” here.
So, does In-N-Out have a leg to stand on, or is this just a bunch of extra, and relatively free, publicity for Smashburger? At this point, even money on the latter… though, in court, anything can happen.
In the court of public opinion, though, the jury’s perspective is much clearer. All of the headlines about this translate to much more publicity for Smashburger … and you can’t put a price on your competitor speaking glowingly about your newest products, directly comparing it to their own.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.