JOANNE McCARTHY A whopping blunder

THE following is a story about big business, Aussie battlers, social media, hamburgers, loyalty, savage dogs, my favourite singlet (pictured), a man named Kev and a fight over a word: "whopper".

The Wambie Whopper singlet.Picture: Phil Hearne

The Wambie Whopper singlet.Picture: Phil Hearne

A little shop has this word in its title. A big company wants to take it away. And it's happening in the suburb where I live.

Now, the world has seen some epic trademark struggles. The "who owns the 'ugg' in 'ugg boot'?" dispute. The Italian clothing company Jesus Jeans's fight for the right to "own" the Lord. Fashion designer Christian Louboutin's battle to stop other designers from making red-soled shoes. Beyonce's and Jay-Z's attempt to trademark their daughter Blue Ivy's name.

And now this. Hungry Jack's wants Wambie Whoppers to get rid of the "Whoppers".

The story so far:

In 1993, Kev and Maree Dean registered their takeaway food business "Wambie Whoppers". They sold hamburgers and barbecued chickens from one of two shopping strips in the Central Coast suburb of Wamberal. The shopping strip closest to my house became known as the "top shops". The other strip, including Wambie Whoppers, became the "Whopper shops".

Time passed. Kev and Maree worked hard, and every Sunday at 6am a group would gather in the car park outside their shop.

The group, including Kev, would head off on what became known as the "Whoppers Run" - 21 kilometres of ridge climbs and roads with a couple of savage dogs thrown in to keep things interesting, and a drink at the end outside the Whoppers shop.

Memories are made of this.

Over the years, the Whoppers Run expanded. There was the Super Whoppers Run, which added a few kilometres and hills, and Mega Whoppers - 35 kilometres including a perverse circuit round an oval. There were colourful variations, but those Whoppers runs had one thing in common. They all started and ended in the car park in front of Kev and Maree's shop.

Kev loved his Sunday-morning Whopper runs. Somewhere along the way, he produced a singlet with the words "Wambie Whopper" and a picture of a hamburger on the back. Five Whoppers runs earned you the singlet.

I got my singlet in 2002, only a few weeks before Kev and Maree sold their shop. I still wear it.

More time passed. The Sunday runs continued. The new owners kept selling hamburgers, and no one thought much about the name Whoppers until Wambie Whoppers received a legal letter from Hungry Jack's a few weeks ago.

Hungry Jack's referred to its trademark registration of "Home of the Whopper" burgers more than a decade ago. Hungry Jack's wanted Wambie Whoppers to get rid of the word "Whoppers", Kev and Maree were told.

Before we discover what Maree did then, let's pause to look at the history of "whopper" ownership claims in Australia.

According to Wikipedia, Hungry Jack's (company motto: "Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt's favourite climate-change research site") is owned by Competitive Foods Australia and is the second-largest Burger King franchise in the world.

Hungry Jack's has more than 300 locations in Australia - the first franchise opened in Perth in 1971.

Burger King has sold a burger called the Whopper in the US since 1957. But its initial attempts to trademark the word "whopper" in Australia struck problems.

Burger King gave us the wonderfully named High Court "Whopper" case after it appealed to the court in 1973. The Australian Registrar of Trademarks had declined to register the trademark "whopper" to the burger multinational.

The High Court ruled against Burger King, saying the word "whopper" was "simply descriptive" rather than "inherently adapted to distinguish Burger King's goods". It was finally successful.

Wambie residents - I'd be booted off the beach if I dared use the full name Wamberal - rose up as one this week after Maree called for support on Facebook. Hungry Jack's had a fight on its hands but at time of print wasn't commenting.

For locals, this isn't about "owning" Whoppers, which is the point of writing this.

Firms seeking to "own" a word such as "whopper" place a priority on commercial value but miss the cultural context. In a country where people are becoming more and more uneasy about powerful organisations overriding local interests, the fight for Whoppers was always going to be bigger than a blue about hamburgers.

Hungry Jack's might just have taken on too big a mouthful.


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