Tim Hortons has become so popular in Canada that restauranteurs in other countries are taking notice. Imitators of Tim Hortons have sprung up in India and South Korea.
India’s “Tim Hottens” restaurant changed two letters and ‘“borrowed”’ Tim Hortons’ branding and logo. At first sight, anyone would think the store was Tim Hortons’ first venture into India.
Canadians find this funny. But Restaurant Brands International (RBI), which owns Tim Hortons, isn’t laughing. It is acting in India to shut down its imitator before other restauranteurs decide to join in.
Why intellectual property protection is so important
Companies’ intellectual property is an intangible asset. It’s not physical: it’s an idea, invention, brand or design that gives a company’s business a competitive advantage over others selling the same thing. Tim Hortons spent five decades, since Tim Horton founded the chain in 1964, building a brand name and reputation that it says represents quality coffee, foods and service. It does not want to lose that advantage.
All of this is summed up in Tim Horton’s trademark: the logo that represents and distinguishes it in the marketplace. If others use its logo – or a logo that is deliberately similar to it – and then offers bad food and worse service, that harms the good reputation Tim Hortons has built up over the years.
Tin Hottens, along with other Tim Hortons’ knock-offs that have appeared in South Korea, threatens Tim Hortons’ brand and trademark by using a virtually indistinguishable logo. Tim Hortons is expanding into Asian markets and does not want any competitor to ruin its reputation before the chain can even get established there.
A similar trademark cannot be used although the services offered are different
Tim Hottens is not the same type of restaurant as Tim Hortons. Its Facebook page shows a much different restaurant from Tim Hortons. It serves alcoholic drinks, burgers and mojitos in a setting that is more like a bar or nightclub. Wait staff serve customers.
Even so, Tim Hortons’ says the name and logo violate its intellectual property and could affect its brand and reputation. RBI has already announced that it will act to protect its intellectual assets. “While we believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we do have very high standards when it comes to our brand, the quality of our products and the service we provide our guests,” RBI said in a public statement. “Therefore, we will be taking steps to protect our brand and trademark, including closing down this imitation restaurant.”
Becoming genericized: Losing a trademark
Tim Hortons does not want to lose its trademark in Asia by becoming a common name for a café and donut shop, used by people and business competitors to refer to any similar good or service. This happened to Aspirin, which became a common name for headache tablets and was declared to be a generic name in the United States, though “Aspirin” is still a trademark in Canada.
In Canada, this has almost happened to Bombardier. “Ski-Doo” is used as a generic name for snowmobiles, although it is still legally a Bombardier trademark. While Canadians fondly refer to Tim Hortons as “Timmies”, Tim Hortons does not use “Timmies” as a trademark, so isn’t concerned about this becoming a generic term for the restaurant.
While most Canadians got a good laugh out of “Tim Hottens”, it is no laughing matter for Tim Hortons or its owners, RBI. They have good reason to protect their intellectual property which represents their name, brand and reputation. So, if you love “Timmies”, and ever travel to India, don’t go to Tim Hottens.
Assuming it’s still there when you read this.