Subway sues nonya kueh chain

From ‘Sandwich chain Subway sues S’porean company Subway niche’, 5 oct 2011, article by Selina Lum, ST

The American owner of the Subway chain of sandwich shops has sued the boss of local nonya kueh chain Subway Niche for trademark infringement. A two-day hearing into the case began in the High Court on Tuesday.

Subway, owned by Florida-based Doctor’s Associates, has been selling sandwiches since 1967 and has become the world’s largest fastfood chain with 34,891 stores in 98 countries. The American company started legal action after it became aware that Subway Niche has begun selling sandwiches. It contends that there is a real likelihood that the public will be confused by the similar marks.

But Subway Niche sole proprietor Lim Eng Wah says ‘subway’ is a common English word. He also asserts that there is no conceptual similarity. As his first outlet was at the basement of Wisma Atria (in 1987) near the Orchard MRT station, the idea behind his business name was to attract MRT commuters. On the other hand, Subway’s name has its roots in the submarine sandwiches that they sell.

Subway Nicked

As hard as it is to believe that Subway, with its fattening cookies-and-chips sides and high-calorie soda beverages, was founded by an American DOCTOR in the late sixties, the fact remains that the ‘little guy’ Subway niche was here first, while Subway the fast-food-disguised-as-healthy-alternative-deli  launched its first Singapore store in Lau Pa Sat almost 10 years later in 1996 according to the company website. If Subway niche had appeared after the emergence of the American sandwich giant, I probably wouldn’t fault the latter for thinking Niche was trying to pass off as a Subway ‘Lite’. or ‘Express’. Even if both ‘subways’ referred to the same type of submarine sandwich (Niche maintains that their SUBWAY refers to actual location), one may apply the same logic to ‘branded’ everyday words like ‘pizza’ or ‘fried chicken’ and wonder why PIZZA Hut isn’t sueing California Pizza, KFC Texas Fried Chicken, or Delifrance Sushi DELI,  for ‘confusing’ fast food fans. Incidentally, Niche’s sandwiches are triangle-cut and reminiscent of what Mommy packs for her kid’s lunchbox, while Subway’s are 6 to 10 inch sloppy schlongs, symbolic of the hostile, domineering manner in which they’re ramming this lawsuit down their opponent’s throat.

Fast food giant bullying is nothing new, though the chief instigator of lawsuits McDonald’s hasn’t had much success beating down small businesses for adding a Scottish twist to their brand, like the locally produced instant ‘MacTea/MacNoodles’ trademark battle in 2004, or the McCurry embarrassment in KL, 2009. The same argument applied then, that usurping a brand name would cause ‘deceit or confusion’, as if grocery shoppers in a supermarket or teh-tarik drinkers would think of ‘upsizing their Happy Meals’ every time they see an item starting with Mc or Mac, though the prefix ‘Mc’ has been applied not just to actual products but as a journalistic device to describe anything that reeks of the same time-cutting, capitalist mass-production ethos of the fast food chain, like McChurch, McJob and McPhone (McWords according to wikipedia). More recently a beverage paying homage to a beloved hazelnut spread got coffee chain TCC into a McSUIT for bearing the name Nutello.

It would be a sad day for local enterprise and nonya kueh if the B.M.T (Big McTyrant) wins this case. For the price you pay for a standard sub you could watch a movie on a weekday, or feed two stomachs at a hawker centre. Subway, you’ve already conquered the world with SUB-satisfactory light-bite excuses for lunch, beating even McDonald’s who can’t sell salad dressing the way you do. Go pick on someone your own size already.

Postscript: The sandwich giant lost the suit, with the judge citing ‘very little evidence of confusion among consumers’.


One Response

  1. Exactly what I thought too… in fact when Subway sandwiches first appeared in Gr8 World City, I was wondering what happened to its delightful kueh kueh I used to buy from its Forum outlet!

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