Feathers fly as food chain cries fowl

NM Courts New

Hot wings are big business, so much so that a fast-food chicken chain has gone clucking to the Durban High Court to stop a rival from using the trademark it registered decades ago for the “phenomenally successful” brand.

Golden Fried Chicken, which trades as Chicken Licken, yesterday secured an urgent interim interdict from Judge Themba Sishi, giving five Big Jo’s outlets in Durban two weeks to say why they should not be restrained from using the trademark.

Chicken Licken, which has 200 outlets throughout South Africa, “cried fowl” last month when managing director George Sombonos said a staff member brought the blatant infringement of the trademark, first registered in 1984, to his attention.

In his affidavit, Sombonos said his lawyer had written to Big Jo’s pointing out the trademark infringement by using the brand “hot wings” on its menus and in-store advertising.

But he was still not happy with the assurances of Big Jo’s Grant Harvey that the wording had been withdrawn and replaced with “shisa wings”.

This, Chicken Licken lawyer Andrew Kennedy said, was merely a Zulu translation of the word “hot” and, in effect, it appeared they had chosen to continue to use the trademark but with a small variation.

Sombonos said the “hot wings” trademark related to products introduced to the market in 1992. “I specified to the supplier, Rainbow Chickens, the exact manner of preparation... they were to be cut into three pieces, through the joints... The wingtips are discarded,” he said.

“It is one of our biggest selling products, if not the biggest.”

For example, he said, in 2009 the company sold more than 128 000 winglets generating revenue of about R377 000. “The sales of the product have been continuous and in huge quantities.

“Customers request them by reference to the brand ‘hot wings’. Just as the ‘Big Mac’ signifies a particular hamburger product at McDonald’s, or a ‘rounder’ at KFC, ‘hot wings’ is indicative of a chicken product at Chicken Licken.”

And, he says, the company spent millions on advertising and marketing this brand. In 2009, it spent R43 million on advertising with the “hot wings” brand being a dominant component on handout leaflets, billboard posters and menus. The brand was the focus of a recent TV advertisement featuring a (puppet) monkey on a man’s back and “hot wings” also had its own Twitter fan account. He accuses Big Jo’s – newcomers in the market – of taking advantage of this desirable reputation and capitalising on its fame. “They have a tremendous springboard into the market place. They start out not on the first rung of the ladder, as everyone else has done, but halfway up, riding on our coat-tails.”

Sombonos said most of the Big Jo’s outlets were in places popular with Zulu-speaking consumers who made up a substantial portion of Chicken Licken’s market.

“As each day goes by, it is more and more likely that members of the public will associate Big Jo’s with Chicken Licken. It is a shrewd market when it comes to pricing.

“If Big Jo’s offers more attractive pricing, there will be a greater loss of market share.”

Judge Sishi gave Big Jo’s until October 25 to oppose the interdict being made final.


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