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Episode of CNBC's "The Profit" Illustrates a Trademark Pitfall to Avoid

Marcus Lemonis is the star of CNBC’s reality show “The Profit.”  “The Profit” chronicles Lemonis’ relationships with ailing businesses.  At the beginning of each episode, Lemonis offers cash-strapped business owners much-needed funds in exchange for an equity stake in their companies.  The rest of the show depicts Lemonis’ efforts to turnaround these businesses' fortunes.

Trademark law issues figured prominently into a recent episode.  Lemonis made an investment in a small restaurant franchise called My Big Fat Greek Gyro.  Less than ten minutes into the episode, questions about the restaurant’s name arose.

“Who came up with the name?” Lemonis asked.

“We have issues with the name,” one of the co-owners said.  Co-owner Mike Ference explained “there was a company in California that actually trademarked MY BIG FAT GREEK.”  Ference said the companies exchanged e-mails, but nothing more.

The situation bothered Lemonis.  “Normally when there is a trademark dispute in a name it’s something you can work through especially if it’s a single location,” Lemonis observed.  “But in this case, we’ve sold the rights in the name to franchisees and now we’re finding out we can’t actually use the name—you’ve got a problem.”

Later on in the episode, the show reveals how the owners solved the problem.  They chose to rebrand to THE SIMPLE GREEK.

If the owners had conducted a trademark clearance, they would have likely avoided having to rebrand.  Such an analysis would have included clearing MY BIG FAT GREEK GYRO against other previously registered marks.  A fairly thorough search would have likely cost the owners of MY BIG FAT GREEK GYRO less than $2,000.

Instead, the owners had to incur the cost of hiring a rebranding specialist to develop new advertising material and other collateral.  In the process, they also lost the goodwill and consumer association they had built up in MY BIG FAT GREEK GYRO.  To paraphrase Lemonis from another episode, that sounds a lot like “stepping over dollars to save pennies.”

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