February 20, 2012

Latest intellectual property clash in China? It's the hamburger

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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The Double-Double is In-N-Out's signature burger, but a Chinese company has started selling it anyway.

The chain now has more than 250 restaurants in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Texas. It has no stores outside the United States. But it wasn't about to let a bunch of upstarts from its home state copy its style in one of the world's fastest-growing consumer markets.

In September 2011, In-N-Out filed a lawsuit, alleging CaliBurger's actions led to "substantial damages" and "irreparable harm."

CaliBurger made some changes and launched a menu and decor that seem slightly less like an In-N-Out clone. Diners can order a dual-patty (and trademarked) Cali Double wrapped in wax paper for about $7.60. The fries can now be ordered "Wild Style." Burgers without buns are referred to as LC Style, or "low-carb."

CaliBurger uses Australian beef instead of American meat because of import restrictions, chef de cuisine Wong said. The company imports Land O' Lakes cheese and frozen French fries from the U.S. and is developing a "secret" menu with more vegetables.

Executives said CaliBurger plans to open a second store in China and one in South Korea by the end of the year. The chain, which also hopes to expand to Taiwan, Hong Kong and elsewhere, said it will partner with franchisees for all international growth.

Meanwhile, In-N-Out appears to be testing the market across the Pacific. In December, it took its signature burgers to Shanghai for a one-day pop-up event to introduce the brand to consumers. Last month, In-N-Out held a similar tasting in Sydney, Australia.

Protecting its image is nothing new for In-N-Out, which has been quick to take legal action against U.S. copycats. A Maryland chain called Grab-N-Go Burger agreed to change its red-and-yellow logo after In-N-Out sued last year for trademark infringement.

All the fuss was lost on Chinese customers dining at the Shanghai CaliBurger on a recent Friday night. Though the initial buzz was driven by expatriates, many diners had never heard of In-N-Out.

"I live in the neighborhood and I wanted to try something new," said Stephen Sun, 31, a shoe salesman dining with his wife. "I like how they toasted the bun. I also like how strong the spiked shakes are. I worked hard today."

Zhang Wenting, a 24-year-old local resident wearing Dior glasses and a faux-fur coat and carrying a dark Gucci purse, said the California vibe was lost on her. She found the cream-colored banquettes and chessboard floors uninspiring.

"I think they need to do something about the color scheme in here," she said, describing her plain burger as "no different from Burger King."

Customers who knew about the In-N-Out connection _ mostly U.S. expats _ said CaliBurger is a welcome addition to Shanghai, which is better known for its famous soup dumplings, or xiao long bao.

As she attacked a cheeseburger, Cheryl Hung, an American, said its flavor was close enough to In-N-Out to satisfy her taste buds.

"It's China," said Hung, 26. "Anywhere else and I'd be surprised by a rip-off."

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