Beyond Me? Beyond ewe?
It appears that the EU proposals will restrict manufacturers in what they can call their products. When does a generic name not become a generic name? The EU directive states that certain generic names are not to be used if they are vegan or plant based.
When you look at the UK Law as is, the question we find asking ourselves is this, “If a consumer is purchasing a ‘burger’ from a retailer or vendor, are they buying a meat based product?”. Does the public, by association, interpret the word burger with meat?
For some, association is that a burger is meat based. Depending on the individual, to visit a supermarket to buy a burger, would mean buying a meat based burger. For some, seeing a vendor selling burgers at an event, they may associate this with a meat based product. “Would you like a burger?”. A natural answer would normally be “Yes, please”. Imagine the surprise if you were given a plant based burger. A vegan’s interpretation of a burger may be completely different. This is their association.
Even though the meat based products such as burger and sausage are not trade marks, they are generic words that the British public have historically associated with meat based products. They are also deemed by the UKIPO to be words that are free for all to use. However, the EU Directive is that these generic words are not to be used to describe vegan or plant based products which may cause the likelihood of confusion to the public. The irony is not lost on me that the term burger is short for hamburger, thanks to Hamburg, Germany, and the subsequent shortening in the 1960s to burger?
Another question is whether vegan and plant based burgers are being intentionally created, packaged and sold to cause the “likelihood of confusion on the part of the public”? The other perspective is that companies are providing alternatives for those that have “converted”, but still miss meat. For sausages, see burgers, etc. This is not exclusive to just burgers. We live in a more visible world. The disclosure of ingredients on packaging has become a science in itself and the contents of packaging rightly scrutinised.
The proposal by the EU is based on whether “burger”, “sausage” etc. are exclusively meat based products; whether it be a lasagne made of beef or just vegetables, a sausage roll made of meat or cheese and onion. Could both Shepherds Pie and Cottage Pie have the historic meat contents replaced by vegetables or plant based products and still retain their respective names. Are these adaptations?
So should these and other generic names be protected? Article 6ter of the Paris Convention protects the flags and emblems of states that are party to the Paris Convention, as well as the names and emblems of international intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) against unauthorised registration and use as trademarks. Perhaps one day we may have protected marks such as burger, sausage, lasagne, etc.
The EU directive will have a huge impact on those companies that are trying to change the world by introducing healthier products to the public. The hard work in providing the public with an option, an alternative. The impact on marketing departments throughout the world in trying to come up with new names will keep many employees and creative minds up through the night.
When is a burger a burger? When it is meat based. When is a burger not a burger? When it is vegan or plant based. Are vegans and plant based companies piggybacking off establish generic names in order to cause the “likelihood of confusion on the part of the public” or providing the world with alternatives with pure goodwill?
A final thought. What actually is a burger? Is a burger really just the meat alone? If you asked for a burger and received just the cooked ground beef, you would be very confused. Isn’t a burger much, much more? A burger is actually a concept. The combination of many ingredients that add to the concept that is the burger are, ironically, vegetables/plant based ingredients; onion, jalapeños, lettuce, tomato, pickle, etc. together with the bread of choice.
Has the EU really placed the right order? You might say “Impossible!”