For decades, China has been a hotbed of counterfeit, black market products. The piracy of video entertainment, luxury goods, and computer hardware and software have been big problems for American companies wishing to defend their intellectual property in China, where knockoffs are commonplace.
Over the years, we’ve seen some fearless efforts at stealing company’s intellectual property and branding rights. The most recent one that comes to mind is the brazen attempt to open Apple retail stores, without advising Apple.
Now comes word that the fast food industry is getting the knockoff treatment. The Los Angeles Times reports that Chinese cities are littered with the likes of Dairy Fairy, Pizza Huh and Jambo Juice. China is a major market for growth, and the mimicking of American successes is quickly filling a need.
California-based burger chain In-N-Out doesn’t operate in China, but the company’s signature Double-Double burgers, and “Animal Style” fries were about to be sold, until the burger chain flexed its legal muscle.
A company is opening a restaurant in Shanghai called “CaliBurger” with plans to use In-N-Out’s signature red and yellow colors, the names of some of its products, and even palm tree images in its branding.
But it turns out CaliBurger isn’t a Chinese company hoping to hide behind difficult-to-enforce copyright laws in China. The founders are Americans, with corporate offices a freeway ride away from In-N-Out headquarters in Southern California (the company is apparently owned by a holding company based in the Cayman Islands). And, The Los Angeles Times reports that CaliBurger's chef de cuisine and director of training and development, is a former manager at an In-N-Out store in Northern California. The company's website says they formed CaliBurger "to bring the highest quality hamburgers, french fries, and shakes to emerging markets."-in Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia. "CaliBurger's products consist of only the freshest, most superior ingredients. Unlike the frozen meats used by most fast food restaurants, we serve fresh and juicy patties. We slice our french fries by hand from real potatoes in the restaurant. Most important, we pride ourselves on having the best service in the world."
This does sound incredibly similar to what the In-N-Out chain prides itself on.
After some legal pressure around trademark infringement and counterfeiting, CaliBurger has agreed to alter its menu and décor, sidestepping a legal dilemma but still taking advantage of the essence of what In-N-Out burger made famous in America—a wholesome burger joint with good food and good service.
One clear deviation from the wholesome In-N-Out Burger brand are CaliBurger’s vanilla shakes spiked with bourbon. Despite our taste for bourbon, we still believe in the purist In-N-Out Burger brand, and have a distaste for knockoffs who steal a company’s creative juice.
Additional sources: The Shanghaiist