The Florida Department of State Divisions of Corporations has denied a trademark to Fuku restaurant, which is due to open in West Palm Beach, Florida, at the end of the month.

The department said its refusal was based on the name including “immoral, deceptive or scandalous matter.”

But the name actually means ‘good fortune’ in Japanese.

Paul Ardaji, owner of the Chinese and sushi restaurant has been surprised at the trademark rejection.

“I never once thought that anyone would be offended by [the name],” he says. “I did some research on the name in Japanese and it is edgy, slightly sophisticated yet fun, and in the vein of good fortune. So I just thought the name would be interesting and it represented the concept well.”

He doesn’t deny that there’s a little more to it, though.

“Originally I thought it would create some interest value. I thought there would be the play on the word and people would snicker. I thought this is easy to pronounce and there would be the initial shock and then people would look into it and think it was really cool. I never thought people would think it was not moral, or scandalous.”

Ardaji is going ahead with his opening as planned, but is concerned about not having the trademark by the time he hopes to expand his concept, once this first restaurant is established.

Restaurant consultants are in a quandary about whether they support the name Ardaji has chosen and continues to stand by.

“Lowbrow humor will attract a lowbrow customer,” says Aaron Allen, owner of Global Restaurant Consulting, Maitland, Florida. “So it’s a short-lived thing. You can do other plays on words without being so cheesy and corny.”

However, Allen admits that if this is a legitimate use of the word, and it’s not intended to create publicity or scandal, it should be allowed.

“If it really is a classy place that’s built around harmony, the name fits. But if it’s a play on words, it will alienate a lot of customers. Even for a younger demographic, the novelty will wear off after a while.”

Meanwhile, Tom Kelley, principal, strategy and operations, for San Diego-based AccessPoint Media Group, says: “It seems odd to make a big deal about a Florida trademark and not the Federal one.”

Any company that wishes to grow, Kelley adds, should be looking at a Federal trademark. In fact, he adds, “I’ve not heard of too many states issuing trademarks.”

Erik Pelton, a trademark attorney with an eponymous firm in Arlington, Virginia, agrees.

“Although they have been denied by the Florida Department of State, the restaurant owners are not barred from using the name as a result of the denial,” he says.

“[They] could still apply to the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) for registration of the trademark on the Federal level.”

Steven Mason, a naming and branding consultant with The Brand Mason, in Las Vegas, points out that, “’fuku’ or variations of that have been granted a mark, and so the USPTO does not hold the same objection, as does the Florida Department of State Division of Corporations.”

Pelton doesn’t see anything wrong with the name. “If the owners wish to use it, knowing how some may pronounce or interpret it, that is their right,” he says.

He points to the New York restaurant called Momofuku. There is also the British company French Connection, which goes by the acronym FCUK.

What should restaurants do prior to opening to avoid problems such as Fuku’s?

“This restaurant doesn't have a problem; they have free publicity,” Mason says. “They can still get a Federal trademark, far superior to a state one. A name that makes people think and/or talk about it is a wise strategy so long as the name evokes the key attributes associated with the restaurant.”

By Amanda Baltazar

Industry News, NextGen Casual