Nandos  has been called a 'bully' over a trademark dispute with a small Portuguese-style chicken restaurant over its branding

The PERI-OMETER and the Barcelos Cockerel are well known motifs of the fast-food chain, Nando’s. Like most big-name brands, Nando’s protects the images and words that consumers associate with it by registering trademarks to prevent competitors from trying to associate themselves with the brand. Unsurprisingly, it has a worldwide trademark for the word ‘PERI-OMETER’, as well as for the associated image and the Barcelos Cockerel.

According to the chicken giant, a small, Portuguese-style chicken restaurant – ‘Fernando’s’ – in Reading is trying to take unfair advantage of the world-renowned brand. Nando’s claims the name itself has a similar ring to it, and is also convinced that its smaller competitor is using the chilli image and, perhaps most recognisably, the Barcelos Cockerel to ‘benefit from some of the things that make us [‘Nando’s’] who we are’.

The owner of ‘Fernando’s’, Asam Aziz, argues that, being of Portuguese origin himself, he simply wanted his restaurant to have the theme of his home nation. Fernando, he claims, is a Portuguese name and so fits with that theme, while at the same time being famous for its inclusion in the TV dating show ‘Take Me Out’. He also says that the chicken emblem which his restaurant uses is nothing more than a stylised version of the Portuguese traditional chicken.

Nando’s lawyers wrote to Mr Aziz earlier this month alleging that the use of the name and the images amount to an infringement of Nando’s intellectual property rights. Specifically, the letter referred to Fernando’s use of the Barcelos Cockerel and chilli images being ‘highly similar’ to Nando’s trademarks. In reply, he stated that he felt ‘bullied’ and was worried that legal action might force him to have to close.  He feels that his ‘chicken is better’ and that is why he has received this letter now, despite having traded without incident for several months.

Nando’s are adamant that they wish to resolve the situation amicably. Mr Aziz is set to discuss his position with intellectual property specialists in the coming week.

Nando’s will have to be careful not to come across as a corporate giant bullying a small, independent retailer. Many international businesses have fallen foul of this in recent years, notably BrewDog and Red Bull, and have faced significant criticism in the media and on social media as a consequence.

Brand protection is essential for any business, but it must be balanced with an effective reputational management policy. This is something that Netflix mastered recently when enforcing their intellectual property rights in the hit show ‘Stranger Things’, when a pop-up bar themed on the show opened in Chicago without its consent.

It will be interesting to see how Nando’s responds to Mr Azziz’s bullying allegations.