A fierce court battle has broken out in Jamaica after McDonald's, the US$26 billion hamburger giant, moved to bar a long established Kingston company operating restaurants under the same name.
Top lawyers for the US-based burger chain contend that owners of the McDonald's Corporation Ltd, which serves traditional dishes alongside fast-food, has made a deliberate attempt to pass itself off as an affiliate.
The row blew up when the US chain, which owns 20,000 restaurants worldwide, opened its first outlet in Montego Bay, last year. The American corporation immediately sought a restraining order against the Jamaican company, which has been in business since 1971 on Cargill Avenue, Kingston, from trading under the name.
Businessman Victor Chang, who manages the Jamaican McDonald's has hit back with claims that the US giant is using its corporate muscle to stifle local enterprise. Chang has hired the Commonwealth Caribbeans biggest law firm, Myers, Fletcher and Gordon, to defend his claim to the name.
"When large multi-national operations enter new territory, they have to give due regard to the rights of local businesses which have spent years building up a successful concern," said Myers lawyer, Michael Toohig on behalf of his client. The company denies that it has mimicked the burger chains famous 'Golden Arches' logo, and claims its business has been growing for over two decades.
The legal wrangle is the latest development to establish a foothold in the Caribbean.
McDonald's closed its first and only Barbados restaurant after just six months when customer demand flagged in favour of local food outlets. The company has also been given a headache by pro-government press and politicians in Bermuda. Resistance to building a restaurant there has been intense, with one prominent politician claiming the "McDonald's cheapens wherever it goes.
"McDonald's raised the stakes in Jamaica when it claimed its product was superior to the local version, saying the "inferior" quality of the Jamaican McDonald's
|food threatened to damage McDonald's worldwide reputation.
Chang, who is well-known after he was honoured by government for services to the entertainment industry, was incensed.
His company retaliated by citing outbreaks of food poisoning at McDonald's restaurants in Britain and the United States, exposed recently in London's High Court during a separate libel action by McDonald's against two environmentalists who crticised the company's business record and food quality.
The Jamaican company says it has never received a single complaint from its customers.
The two companies have reached a stalemate whilst they await a crucial interim judgement from the Supreme Court. In the meantime, both continue to operate at opposite sides of the island.
McDonald's tried to stop details of food contamination, taken from the Internet, being used as evidence in court, claiming the technology was not "a recognised source of information.
"In what is seen as a landmark decision, Justice Chester Orr ruled that information published on the net was acceptable as long as original sources were named, which in this case were McDonald's UK own executives who revealed the damaging material under cross examination in the British trial.
Chang's company is digging in for a long battle, which it says may "prove more costly than McDonald's first envisaged." Expecting success, supporters point to a similar case in South Africa.
McDonald's is appealing there against a refusal by the South African courts to stop a local, st up during the apartheid years, also using the name.