A little while ago, the author of another blog (I can’t remember which one) commented on the irony that the company that initialized its name to get rid of the word “Fried” would be offering something like the Double Down. That left me scratching my head because I had thought that KFC had shortened its name not because of the word “Fried” but because of the word “Kentucky.” They were worried about it being considered too regionalized (which I considered silly, but there you go). Turns out that we were both right and we were both wrong.

He was right that the official reason they gave was the ford “Fried”. I was right because the real problem was indeed the word “Kentucky”. However, it wasn’t regionalization as I had though. Rather, it’s that the Commonwealth of Kentucky wanted a cut:

In 1990, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, mired in debt, took the unusual step of trademarking their name. Henceforth, anyone using the word “Kentucky” for business reasons – inside or outside the state – would have to obtain permission and pay a licening fee to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The result was that Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC and more:

Kentucky Fried Chicken were not the only ones who bravely refused to knuckle under. The name of the most famous horse race in North America, held every year at Churchill Downs, was changed from the “Kentucky Derby” to “The Run for the Roses” for similar reasons; many seed and nursery outfits that had previously offered Kentucky Bluegrass switched to a product known as “Shenendoah Bluegrass” instead; and Neil Diamond’s song “Kentucky Woman” was dropped from the radio playlists at his request, as the licensing fees he was obligated to pay the Commonwealth of Kentucky exceeded the performance royalties he was receiving for the airplay.

I’ve often wondered if states were allowed to do this. I was actually thinking less of the state’s name and more the state’s flag. I figured that they could because state-run universities trademark their name and logo. I began to wonder if the current copyright mentality had been in place at the founding it the use of the stars and stripes would require paying a royalty to the government.


Category: Market

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10 Responses to The Story of KFC

  1. Maria says:

    This trademarking stuff has gone way too far. States are trademarked now? I hope the state of California doesn’t here about this — it’s desperate for money.

  2. Peter says:

    I don’t know … it’s one thing to impose the trademark rules on businesses that started using the Kentucky name, but I have my doubts whether it could be done retroactively.

  3. Bob V says:

    On a related note…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_seeking

    One thing that confuses me based on my (pathetic) knowledge of trademark law is that you ordinarily lose a trademark if you refuse to enforce it. This is why corporations get lambasted for sending cease-and-desist orders to kids businesses. It isn’t necessarily that they *want* to. It’s that they have to.

    In the case of Kentucky, it’s pretty clear that the Commonwealth had knowledge that it’s trademark was being used by other parties. Unless they literally passed a law changing copyright law to allow Kentucky the right to claim this copyright, I don’t see how their claim could hold up in court.

  4. Mike Hunt says:

    Is today June Fools’ Day in Arapaho?

  5. trumwill says:

    KFC allegedly tried to take it to court and never won, so I assume that the state had some legal framework to fall back on. My understanding of the law was similar to Bob’s. Maybe because it was a new trademark? Or maybe it’s different if a state does it?

  6. stone says:

    It sounds crazy, but I’ll look it up and get back to you.

  7. trumwill says:

    I, for one, prefer a world in which this nutty story is true to one where this nutty story is false.

  8. web says:

    One thing that confuses me based on my (pathetic) knowledge of trademark law is that you ordinarily lose a trademark if you refuse to enforce it. This is why corporations get lambasted for sending cease-and-desist orders to kids businesses. It isn’t necessarily that they *want* to. It’s that they have to.

    Actually, the reason corporations get lambasted is because of scum-sucking, unimaginative lawyers who think a “cease and desist” letter is the only thing they can send.

    It’s perfectly feasible to send a “proceed and permit” letter, which would allow the little kids’ businesses to be recognized and still protect the trademark just fine. It’s just that most “lawyers” are too stupid, ill-informed, unimaginative, and soulless to ever write one.

  9. Bull E says:

    I agree with webguy. The guy who passes the bar by 1 point on the 7th time taking it is still an atty! Similarly, a burger joint in NJ had to “cease and desist” selling Arnold burgers…the letter came from the Gov of California’s lawyers. Really? Can any lawyers out there explain how that is legal?

  10. Bob V says:

    Bull E,
    I don’t think there are any legal requirements for sending out a cease and desist letter. In fact, I don’t even know if you have to be a lawyer to send one. The burger place could choose to continue operating and see if Mr. S- would go ahead and sue. Keep in mind that even if they sue, it’s questionable as to whether he would actually win. I don’t see such a restaurant as confusing customers unless there are other aspects that tie it to the governor.

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