G.R. No. 143993, August 18, 2004.
Petitioner McDonald's Corporation ("McDonald's") is a US corporation that operates a global chain of fast-food restaurants, with Petitioner McGeorge Food Industries ("McGeorge"), as the Philippine franchisee.
McDonald's owns the "Big Mac" mark for its "double-decker hamburger sandwich." with the US Trademark Registry on 16 October 1979.
Based on this Home Registration, McDonald's applied for the registration of the same mark in the Principal Register of the then Philippine Bureau of Patents, Trademarks and Technology ("PBPTT") (now IPO). On 18 July 1985, the PBPTT allowed registration of the "Big Mac."
Respondent L.C. Big Mak Burger, Inc. is a domestic corporation which operates fast-food outlets and snack vans in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. Respondent corporation's menu includes hamburger sandwiches and other food items.
On 21 October 1988, respondent corporation applied with the PBPTT for the registration of the "Big Mak" mark for its hamburger sandwiches, which was opposed by McDonald's. McDonald's also informed LC Big Mak chairman of its exclusive right to the "Big Mac" mark and requested him to desist from using the "Big Mac" mark or any similar mark.
Having received no reply, petitioners sued L.C. Big Mak Burger, Inc. and its directors before Makati RTC Branch 137 ("RTC"), for trademark infringement and unfair competition.
RTC rendered a Decision finding respondent corporation liable for trademark infringement and unfair competition. CA reversed RTC's decision on appeal.
1ST ISSUE:W/N respondent corporation is liable for trademark infringement and unfair competition.
Section 22 of Republic Act No. 166, as amended, defines trademark infringement as follows:
Infringement, what constitutes. - Any person who  shall use, without the consent of the registrant, any reproduction, counterfeit, copy or colorable imitation of any registered mark or trade-name in connection with the sale, offering for sale, or advertising of any goods, business or services on or in connection with which such use is likely to cause confusion or mistake or to deceive purchasers or others as to the source or origin of such goods or services, or identity of such business; or  reproduce, counterfeit, copy, or colorably imitate any such mark or trade-name and apply such reproduction, counterfeit, copy, or colorable imitation to labels, signs, prints, packages, wrappers, receptacles or advertisements intended to be used upon or in connection with such goods, business or services, shall be liable to a civil action by the registrant for any or all of the remedies herein provided.To establish trademark infringement, the following elements must be shown: (1) the validity of plaintiff's mark; (2) the plaintiff's ownership of the mark; and (3) the use of the mark or its colorable imitation by the alleged infringer results in "likelihood of confusion." Of these, it is the element of likelihood of confusion that is the gravamen of trademark infringement.
A mark is valid if it is distinctive and not merely generic and descriptive.
The "Big Mac" mark, which should be treated in its entirety and not dissected word for word, is neither generic nor descriptive. Generic marks are commonly used as the name or description of a kind of goods, such as "Lite" for beer. Descriptive marks, on the other hand, convey the characteristics, functions, qualities or ingredients of a product to one who has never seen it or does not know it exists, such as "Arthriticare" for arthritis medication. On the contrary, "Big Mac" falls under the class of fanciful or arbitrary marks as it bears no logical relation to the actual characteristics of the product it represents. As such, it is highly distinctive and thus valid.
Petitioners have duly established McDonald's exclusive ownership of the "Big Mac" mark. Prior valid registrants of the said mark had already assigned his rights to McDonald's.
Section 22 covers two types of confusion arising from the use of similar or colorable imitation marks, namely, confusion of goods (confusion in which the ordinarily prudent purchaser would be induced to purchase one product in the belief that he was purchasing the other) and confusion of business (though the goods of the parties are different, the defendant's product is such as might reasonably be assumed to originate with the plaintiff, and the public would then be deceived either into that belief or into the belief that there is some connection between the plaintiff and defendant which, in fact, does not exist).
There is confusion of goods in this case since respondents used the "Big Mak" mark on the same goods, i.e. hamburger sandwiches, that petitioners' "Big Mac" mark is used.
There is also confusion of business due to Respondents' use of the "Big Mak" mark in the sale of hamburgers, the same business that petitioners are engaged in, also results in confusion of business. The registered trademark owner may use his mark on the same or similar products, in different segments of the market, and at different price levels depending on variations of the products for specific segments of the market. The registered trademark owner enjoys protection in product and market areas that are the normal potential expansion of his business.
Furthermore, In determining likelihood of confusion, the SC has relied on the dominancy test (similarity of the prevalent features of the competing trademarks that might cause confusion) over the holistic test (consideration of the entirety of the marks as applied to the products, including the labels and packaging).
Applying the dominancy test, Respondents' use of the "Big Mak" mark results in likelihood of confusion. Aurally the two marks are the same, with the first word of both marks phonetically the same, and the second word of both marks also phonetically the same. Visually, the two marks have both two words and six letters, with the first word of both marks having the same letters and the second word having the same first two letters.
Lastly, since Section 22 only requires the less stringent standard of "likelihood of confusion," Petitioners' failure to present proof of actual confusion does not negate their claim of trademark infringement.
2ND ISSUE: W/N Respondents committed Unfair Competition
Section 29 ("Section 29")73 of RA 166 defines unfair competition, thus:
Any person who will employ deception or any other means contrary to good faith by which he shall pass off the goods manufactured by him or in which he deals, or his business, or services for those of the one having established such goodwill, or who shall commit any acts calculated to produce said result, shall be guilty of unfair competition, and shall be subject to an action therefor.The essential elements of an action for unfair competition are (1) confusing similarity in the general appearance of the goods, and (2) intent to deceive the public and defraud a competitor.
In the case at bar, Respondents have applied on their plastic wrappers and bags almost the same words that petitioners use on their styrofoam box. Further, Respondents' goods are hamburgers which are also the goods of petitioners. Moreover, there is actually no notice to the public that the "Big Mak" hamburgers are products of "L.C. Big Mak Burger, Inc." This clearly shows respondents' intent to deceive the public.