Crabby Fries feeling pinch of trademark dispute

By on November 17, 2011

Crab cakes. Crab fries. Crab dip. Generic terms all, it would seem.

But according to the Philadelphia restaurant chain Chickie’s and Pete’s, any use of the term crab fries, even variations such as “krab fries,” is an infringement of their trademarked menu item “Crab Fries.” And that is causing real concern for the local restaurant Crabby Fries.

The owner of Chickie’s and Pete’s has been sending cease-and-desist letters throughout the mid-Atlantic, demanding restaurants remove the phrase “crab fries” or several variations from their menus and names.

If the recipients refuse to comply, the chain proceeds to file a civil suit in federal court, which leads to complications for many small restaurants.

The Voice has spoken to three local attorneys, all of whom wish to remain off the record as they are not involved in the case. The attorneys noted that once a trademark is registered, owners are expected to “vigorously defend” it to establish a basis for their claim.

According to the philly.com website, which includes the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and the Philly Tablet under its umbrella, Chickie’s and Pete’s trademarked the phrase “crab fries” in 2007. The owner of the company, Pete Ciarrocchi, has been “passionate about defending that trademark.”

Local boosters such as Phillymag.com go as far as to state “he’s the inventor of the crab fry.”‘

Ciarrocchi is a major player in the City of Brotherly Love. The same article in Phillymag.com notes he is best friends with Jon Bon Jovi. He holds court at Eagles games and recently became a co-owner of the Philadelphia Soul, an Arena Football League franchise started by Bon Jovi.

The article on philly.com notes that Ciarrocchi has successfully forced a restaurant on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to drop the phrase “crab fries” from its menu. The owner voluntarily withdrew the “offending” menu item rather than retain counsel to fight the case in court.

On Oct. 27, Ciarrochhi’s attorney’s filed suit against J&P Pizza in Westminster, Md. for using the phrase “Maryland Crab Fries” on its menu.

That lawsuit, which is worded almost exactly the same as the one recently filed against “Crabby Fries” in Kill Devil Hills, maintains the defendant’s “recent roll out” of the phrase Maryland Crab Fries “can only be seen as a willful attempt to palm off plaintiff’s goodwill in its CRAB FRIES® mark, and a blatant attempt to create consumer confusion.”

All three attorneys we spoke to were skeptical that Chickie’s and Pete would prevail in court, noting that “Crabby Fries” is not the same phrase as “CRAB FRIES, is not likely to cause consumer confusion in any area outside of Chickie’s and Pete’s primary market and most importantly, is probably too generic a term to even be trademarked.

This might all sound well and good for our local entrepreneurs, who would be forced to change the name of their restaurant and the two years of brand and consumer goodwill they have built since opening were it not for the fact that trademarks, unlike patents, are not vetted by the government when registered. Disputes are left to the courts.

Although two of the three attorneys we spoke to felt sure a North Carolina judge would dismiss the suit without trial, restaurant owners faced with such actions from Chickie’s and Pete must hire attorneys to respond to the cease-and-desist notices, the lawsuit that invariably follows and then the first appearance before the judge.

Thousands of dollars could be expended on that gamble alone. If the judge were to allow the case to proceed, estimates of the cost to defend have ranged from $10,000 to as high as $50,000.

Most small restaurant owners cannot afford even the early stages of defending their restaurant against a claim.

Links:
www.phillymag.com »
Maryland lawsuit »
Philly.com article »

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Comments

Sarah

December 13, 2011 6:15 pm

And yet another article, but this one mentions Russ and links to this article.
http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/blog/peter-van-allen/2011/12/chickies-petes-owner-i-invented.html?page=all

Jane

December 13, 2011 12:42 pm

How about give every patron w/ a PA plate a free tshirt that says “Crabby Fries, an OBX Orginal” to take home?

Ed Terry

December 13, 2011 10:35 am

Here are a few ideas:

1) Trademark the phrase ‘cheese steak’ and then sue the entire city of Philadelphia for trying to confuse consumers by pawning-off fake cheese on old meat as food.

2) Rename your business ‘Not Crabby Fries’.

3) Rename your business “Crabby Fries (not to be confused with a side item on Chickie & Pete’s menu)”

4) Charge parking fees to all Crabby Fries patrons with Pennsylvania license plates to fund legal defense fund.

I will think of more ideas later.

Sarah

December 12, 2011 3:13 pm

Not to link to another print media outlet, but this is finally getting some attention in Philadelphia! http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/news/2011/12/12/chickies-petes-too-crabby-about.html

Jane

December 8, 2011 7:56 pm

It seems there was a lapse in the trademark that is the basis for this suit. Pete’s lawyers are gonna have some ‘splaining to do: http://www.crab-fries.com/2011/12/did-pete-own-trademark-when-crabby.html

Sarah

December 8, 2011 9:20 am

There was a news piece aired on WVEC 13 out of Hampton Roads about the pending lawsuit. http://www.wvec.com/home/Outer-Banks-eatery-fighting-for-Crabby-Fries-135202248.html

debbi evans

December 8, 2011 8:47 am

…Yet again you have gone and tried to claim your fame to Crab and fries and (old bay) seasoning = Crabby Fries….
Please look at this issue again and decide what is really important here….to ruin your restaurants rep. or to wipe out others with the name usage…or on the other side you could drop all this and all of us could just enjoy our customers and make people happy plus put money in our accounts to take care of our lives…don’t let pride step in where it does not need to…
I live on the OBX of NC and i have never heard of your Restaurant Chickie’s and Pete’s . After going to your Facebook Page and your Web site i can see it is a place, if i were to visit in your area i would like to go to…sadly i will not be going there and sadly i am requesting to my friends and others for them not to go there because of the ethics that is behind the pretty face…
This is just not right.. my Christmas prayer and Christmas wish is that you will drop all this and become a better person for it…..Merry Christmas to you and yours….

Thank your for taking the time to read and respond to my letter today.

Jane

December 7, 2011 11:21 am

Hey kids,
Want to make this lawsuit the first hit when someone googles “crab fries”? Follow my blog: http://www.crab-fries.com/ The more posts and responses we get, the higher our search ranking :) Thanks

MamaDeb

December 6, 2011 9:22 pm

Save Crabby Fries – why does a business in Philly want to ruin a small business in OBX? Greed – stupidity – can’t tend to their own business – pick you own answer and add your own. If they are trying to make their business look good they sure have made a big mistake.

Karla

December 5, 2011 1:37 pm

I have been blocked from leaving comments on https://www.facebook.com/candp due to continued overuse of this feature! :-p

PS in Colington

December 5, 2011 12:47 pm

charlie

December 3, 2011 4:42 am

I went to C&P’s website and emailed the Pres of the company with my disappointment with their punitive actions. I might email him again today and tomorrow and on and on.

Steve Thomas

December 2, 2011 3:49 pm

As the owner of a small sandwich shop in the Philadelphia area we also were given a cease letter for having crab fries on our menu. It was the case of a giant with unlimited money and our small business. We changed the name….but our customers still order the fries as Crab Fries and not the name we were foreced to go to…

The Flippens

December 2, 2011 8:40 am

Pretty sad. Maybe C&P isn’t doing enough business on their own and feel they need to make their income by sueing other companies (that are operating legitimate businesses just trying to feed their families). There are people that look to sue for silly reasons every day, just to make a buck, totally disregarding the effects on the other party. -> also posted on C&P’s Facebook page.

Mike Stokes

December 1, 2011 8:50 pm

Here is what I just posted on C&P’s FB page: You guys are threatening to sue Crabby Fries Restaurant on the Outer Banks for trademark infringement!!??? Good god, REALLY!!! I think that borders on absurd!!! I just read an article detailing your plans to sue & just had to let you know how stupid I think it is! GET A LIFE DUDE!!! They aren’t even anywhere near you, not to mention restaurants all up & down the coast have been serving CRAB FRIES since before you even opened. A trademark on “CRAB FRIES”…seriously. I hope one of these “little guys” you’ve been bullying actually takes you up on your offer to go to court so you will lose & be forced to put an end to this exercise in stupidity. – Just sayin’.

PS in Colington

December 1, 2011 9:47 am

Thanks VERY MUCH for reporting this. I had no idea until now.

PS in Colington

December 1, 2011 9:25 am

Visit this page and voice your opinion to support Crabby Fries:

https://www.facebook.com/candp

Do the same here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/183659151724916/

Then, tell ALL of your friends to do the same. I’m tired of family businesses getting kicked around by chain stores.

John VanderMyde

November 30, 2011 9:14 am

Facebook page for Save Crabby Fries:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/183659151724916/

Tom

November 30, 2011 7:46 am

Since they claim that they’ve been rated ESPN’s #1 Sports Bar in North America on their FB page, “About –
#1 Sports Bar in North America as voted by ESPN!”, maybe ESPN should be made aware of this nonsense. I’ve left a comment on their FB page, as have others https://www.facebook.com/candp . Wonder how long before it’s gone?

Glenn

November 29, 2011 9:00 am

The folks at Crabby Fries are very nice, and run a great little restaurant. Count me in on the email and posting campaign. This is a frivolous lawsuit. Crabby Fries isn’t taking one dime away from the big corporate guys. And I bet the food is better at Crabby Fries. I like it anyway. Hang in there folks!

ponybird

November 28, 2011 10:10 pm

WHen I read this I thought of the Krusty Krab’s Krabby fries on Spongebob Squarepants don’t even know who Chickie’s and Pete’s is. This is ridiculous. If anyone has the copyright to Krabby Fries it should be MR>KRABS!!! Wait til he finds out….. money money money

John VanderMyde

November 28, 2011 6:40 pm

I hope everyone will go post on their page – they have removed our posts, but hopefully if more people continue to inform C&P’s customers, there might be enough pressure for them to reconsider the lawsuit.

For the record, I have never been to Crabby Fries… I just hate to see the little guy getting picked on, and “legal” picking is the worst sort. Unless we want laws governing every single possible action, we need to exert societal pressure in this sort of situation.

https://www.facebook.com/candp

Kasey

November 28, 2011 12:39 pm

this is absurd…I live on the eastern shore of md…dorchester & somerset counties in md are the home of the md blue crab…they’re trying to pawn off crab fries in PA??? I guess Old Bay fries would be some type of infringement as well…C&P serves their fries with ‘cheese sauce’…who does that and destroys the crab-essence of the seasoning???!! I guess not a true lover of the crab fry…

Sarah

November 27, 2011 11:41 am

A facebook group has been started to try and help the owners save their business: https://www.facebook.com/groups/183659151724916/

John VanderMyde

November 22, 2011 7:01 pm

@Maslin: Thanks – posted a link to this article earlier today… been up 4 hours, liked once. Surprised how many “likes” I got for the first post. Fighting injustice through social media… I suppose it’s as good a hobby as any!

Maslin

November 22, 2011 1:41 pm

@John VanderMyde: Looks like your comment on their fb page is gone. I have to stop thinking about this because it’s making me very upset…

Freemarket

November 21, 2011 4:12 pm

What needs to change here is the fact that a hard working business owner can be pushed into bankruptcy over someone’s attempt to say they have rights over another persons. Come on, seriously, a Philly restaurant that has no local chain in this area, he has no argument in competition because he is not part of the competition for this area. He has the money to waste trying to force his thoughts on others and just wants to show the world that he really isn’t as small as he may seem by buying his achievements…count me in on the public fund to help fight this one!

George

November 20, 2011 7:50 am

And this is being done by the part-owner of an Arena Football League franchise … irony, irony, irony.

charlie

November 20, 2011 7:30 am

The brewers of Vermonster beer where targeted in a similar fashion by Monster power drink. Monster picked on the wrong little brewery in Vermont. Vermonters do not take kindly to being pushed around. The boys took to all social media and the outflow of venom towards Monster by ordinary people made Monster back down.

Go Crabby Fries.

chris

November 19, 2011 6:42 pm

who had it first if they had the menu items first they can t trademark that name. That was just taken to court with firehouse subs and they lost the trademark

KHer

November 19, 2011 6:19 pm

With real estate closings down, lawyers have to find some way to make a buck.

OBXJim

November 19, 2011 11:03 am

It appears to me that common names can be trademarked like these two current high profile product names a lot of us use:
“Windows”
“App Store”

It is maddening and doesn’t seem right.

John VanderMyde

November 19, 2011 8:51 am

Good point Ottoman… just posted my opinion of their lawsuit on their facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/candp

Hope others will do so as well… respectfully of course.

Ottoman

November 18, 2011 5:03 pm

He has a website and email…make the frivolous lawsuits go away…

Steve

November 18, 2011 3:45 pm

Give me a break! A restaurant in Philadelphia just trademarked that in 2007!? That’d be like someone in Arizona trademarking “Philly Cheese Steak.” States from Maryland south have been using that term for decades. The trademark office needs to do a little research before handing out such ridiculous trademarks.

Tank

November 18, 2011 9:45 am

Wow. I grew up in Southern Maryland and that term has been used on menus for as long as I remember. How did someone from Philly steal a Md term and copyright it? What a load of crap.

Mermaid

November 18, 2011 9:15 am

What a load of crap!!! Fight the good fight, Crabby Fries!

Gail

November 18, 2011 8:45 am

Really? Apparently his own business is not enough for him to mind, now he’s trying to infringe on someone else’s. Get a life man and leave Crabby Fries be.

Erin

November 18, 2011 7:49 am

Really??? Stop bullying the small people that are just trying to make a living. Obviously Pete has plenty of money.

Native son

November 18, 2011 5:44 am

They wouldn’t even have crabs in Philly unless we ship them some.How about Philly cheese steaks?They’re sold across the USA.Yankees,go figure.

lll

November 17, 2011 10:18 pm

I guess Mr. krabs better look out!!!

Eric

November 17, 2011 8:31 pm

The “word mark” FRENCH FRIES is trademarked, and it’s on every menu across the USA! Get a life and let Crabby Fries be!

Lori Keck

November 17, 2011 8:24 pm

Well I think Mrs. T’s should come back ans sue Chickie and Petes….because they sold the original crab fries for Years (think they started them in MD)…and they were the best…you cannot trademark a common word form such as that and they need to know that. I can’t say that I have never heard of such stupidity …but it happens all the time and who ever lead Chickie and Pete to think they could do something so simple…needs a brain transplant…COCA-COLA, and Pepsi-Cola are clearly unique but crab fries give me a break….

Russ Lay

November 17, 2011 8:15 pm

Larissa: As my friends know, I could easily go there–to SpongeBob–at any time. It is one of my favorite cartoons and an excellent place to retreat when one of my editorials stirs up a hornet’s nest!

Larissa

November 17, 2011 8:02 pm

As a mom of two kids, I totally thought this had something to do with Spongebob. Yes, I totally went there. As for Chickie’s and Pete’s…come on. Really? Aren’t there more important things to focus on these days?

darlene

November 17, 2011 7:36 pm

give me a break! where do i send my donation to help crabby fries fight this nonsense! it is the beach we have crabs, period.

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