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KFC V HFC: Fried Chicken Trademark Cook-Off

KFC has recently challenged Grill’d, arguing that the wording of their new “HFC” product (standing for “Healthy Fried Chicken”) is far too similar to their well-known brand, opposing the trademark registration application.

KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) is a global and well known fast-food chain, and Grill’d is an Australian burger restaurant chain best known for their healthier and fresher options.

KFC’s grounds were that even though the initial letters differ (‘K’ and ‘H’), when placed side by side, they both look and sound identical and are deviously similar.

Grill’d fought KFC on the basis that:

  1. ‘KFC’ and ‘HFC’ are distinguishable enough, being initialisms, not acronyms, and that each letter was clearly pronounced differently;
  2. ‘FC’ is an obvious abbreviation for ‘fried chicken’; and
  3. The differences between ‘H’, standing for Healthy, and ‘K’, standing for Kentucky, were significantly different.

The Result

The Hearing Officer did not agree that ‘FC’ is a palpable abbreviation for ‘fried chicken’, when reviewing the foods claimed for each trademark.

However, they did agree that ‘HFC’ was not considerably identical or deceptively similar to KFC,  citing the judgment of Australian Meat Group Pty Ltd v. JBS Australia Pty Ltd [2018] FCAFC 207. The Court in this matter detected that “the world of commerce is conditioned to the use of acronyms” and that consumers are capable of distinguishing minor differences without being confused.

Acting in Bad Faith

KFC also tried to argue that Grill’d acted in bad faith, and that ‘it was designed to acquire a springboard or advantage by exploiting the reputation of the KFC Trade Marks’.

The Court considered whether there had been bad faith in the context of the trademark legislation. However, it is also a wider argument that can be made to prohibit the other party from benefiting after they have acted in bad faith or come to the Court without ‘clean hands’.

Grill’d’s response was that it was comparative advertising, and that ‘(t)he Applicant’s advertising is a cheeky, parodic comparison between the Opponent’s fried chicken and the Applicant’s healthier alternative’. This is actually allowed under s122(1)(d) of the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth), and Grill’d also pointed out some of KFC’s use of other trader’s slogans, such as “I’m lovin’ it”, and placing KFC products on billboards outside of McDonald’s stores in the United Kingdom.

Grill’d proposed that “it is not dishonest, or even unusual, business practice- particularly in the Quick Service Restaurant industry- to engage in advertising that brings another trader to mind in an amusing way, even if that annoyed the other trader”.

The Hearing Officer agreed with Grill’d, finding that the application had not been made in bad faith.


This decision is a reminder that:

  • even a minor difference may be sufficient to differentiate one trademark from another;
  • the way a trademark sounds or is pronounced is relevant;
  • the abbreviation and full meaning of words in a trademark are relevant; and
  • if you are going to object on the grounds of bad faith, you should check that you haven’t engaged in similar behaviour yourself!

Contact Us

If you have a particular intellectual property dispute you wish to discuss, or require assistance in registering your trademarks, contact our experienced Intellectual Property Team on 03 9481 2000 or info@tauruslawyers.com.au.

Posted by Taurus Legal Management