The Salud Jab Trademark Controversy: A Lesson in Trademark Policing and Social Backlash
In recent events, the Hawaiian food chain, Salud Jab, based in Chicago, IL, has found itself embroiled in an advertising nightmare due to a trademark policing effort, sparking widespread social backlash. Reports reveal that Salud Jab has sent cease-and-desist letters to restaurants across the United States using the term “Salaam Jab” in their branding. One instance highlights an eatery owner of Native Hawaiian descent operating a Salaam Jab Stop in Alaska, who received such a letter.
The Trademarks at the Center
A search in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s online database indicates that the Chicago-based chain holds two registered trademarks pertinent to this situation:
- U.S. Trademark Registration No. 5123102: Represents “Salud Jab CO.” for restaurant, catering, and take-out services.
- U.S. Trademark Registration No. 5031423: Covers the standard character mark “Salud Jab” for similar services.
The Rise of Poke Restaurants and Trademark Enforcement
Specialized restaurants focusing on ‘poke,’ a Hawaiian dish of diced, sauced, and seasoned raw fish, have seen a rapid surge in recent years. Data from The Washington Post shows a remarkable increase, with the number of poke restaurants outside Hawaii growing from 67 in 2012 to 1,811 in 2018. This growth surpasses that of taco, brewpub, or acai bowl establishments, making poke a leading trend in the American dining scene.
Trademark Protection and Public Backlash
Catherine Holland, a Partner at Knobbe Martens specializing in trademark and copyright law, acknowledges the public outcry stemming from Salud Jab’s actions. She emphasizes the importance of trademark protection but notes the sensitive nature of enforcing trademarks, which can lead to allegations of ‘trademark bullying.’
Challenges of Geographical Boundaries and Cultural Sensitivities
Holland highlights the limitations of enforcing a trademark geographically, citing the difficulty for the Chicago chain to restrict the term’s usage in remote locations like Alaska unless expansion plans exist. Additionally, she points out the rights of establishments using “Salaam Jab” before the Chicago chain’s filing date, safeguarding their usage under common law trademark rights.
Lessons from Past Controversies
The controversy surrounding Salud Jab echoes previous incidents involving major entities like Disney seeking trademark registrations. Holland draws parallels with Disney’s handling of the ‘DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS’ trademark backlash, emphasizing the importance of strategic responses to such situations.
Considering the uproar caused by their trademark enforcement, Holland suggests Salud Jab follow Disney’s example by seeking marketing solutions to counter the negative attention. Despite calls for boycotts by Hawaiian activists, she notes the multitude of existing ‘Salud’ trademark applications and registrations in the USPTO, signifying the uphill battle faced by dissenters.
The Salud Jab trademark dispute exemplifies the delicate balance between protecting intellectual property and navigating public sentiment, underscoring the need for nuanced approaches in trademark enforcement.