Baja Fresh Really is Trying to Rip off Kogi!
It looks like the battle between Baja Fresh and LA’s Kogi BBQ truck is just starting to heat up. A quick recap for those who haven’t been following it closely… at the end of last month the OC Mexican food blog first reported that Baja Fresh had added “Kogi Tacos” to one of their locations in Irvine, CA, a seemingly blatant rip off of the LA Korean taco truck with the same name. Readers were outraged, although some commenters on various blogs pointed out that “kogi” is just the Korean term for “meat”, so it’s probably legal. On Thursday, NRN confirmed that Baja Fresh was in fact going ahead with their Kogi named line of Korean tacos, although the owners of the NYC Baja Fresh said it wasn’t going to be coming to New York. (And in a double whammy, neither is the Kogi BBQ Truck we were promised a few months ago!) Well, the Wall Street Journal blog is the latest to chime in, shining some added light on the legality of the name, and whether or not Baja Fresh can use it:
[Baja Fresh] chose to call the dish “kogi” because that is a transliteration of the Korean word for meat. Although it says now a Korean-language expert is investigating whether “gogi” might be a more accurate spelling and if Baja should use that instead.
“It speaks to our non-desire to rip off the Kogi name,” Mr. Rink says. Research and development staff from the chain did sample the tacos at the Kogi truck, but didn’t copy the recipe, Mr. Rink says. It created its own Korean taco using steak and chicken.”
So it seems like the word “kogi” is not really the commonly used phonetic spelling of “meat” that we thought it was. Which begs the question… doesn’t the Kogi BBQ Truck have a trademark!?!
Baja Fresh filed for trademark protection for the term “kogi” on May 8th, Mr. Rink says. Kogi filed its trademark paperwork for “kogi” on December 4th of last year, but only for narrow use, just on mobile food carts. Baja Fresh is seeking protection for the use of Kogi with everything from tacos and burritos to promotional toys. Kogi co-founder Caroline Shin-Manguera says a steep “learning curve” when starting the business accounts for the wording on the trademark application.
Ms. Shin-Manguera says she finds it flattering that Korean barbecue-style tacos are becoming so popular. But “the use of the name after we have worked so hard to create a Kogi community through Twitter and bloggers” is “disheartening,” she says.”
So, clearly Kogi screwed up their trademark filing- but they should still be protected since a) it sounds like they actually did kind of invent the word “kogi” (or at least that particular spelling of the word), and b) because there would undoubtedly be consumer confusion if Baja Fresh was to go forward with their “Kogi” tacos. More than likely Baja Fresh will probably end up going with the word “gogi” instead, to avoid a lawsuit. Or, maybe the Kogi BBQ folks plan on cutting a deal with Baja Fresh to allow them to use the name Kogi (and bring Korean tacos to the masses.) This could be one explanation for why they’ve decided to hold off on their NYC plans- although their spokesperson had this to say about that theory:
“Kogi is not affiliated with Baja Fresh, nor do we ever plan on partnering with them. As for NYC, our efforts have been postponed so that we can grow responsibly. Whichever city we do decide to roll to in the next quarter or year, Kogi will be sure to bring its A-game.”