By: Brianna Penermon
The wildly popular chili sauce, Sriracha, has gained a cult-like following among millennial’s. This spicy condiment has become the newest novel flavor profile for everything from peanuts to burgers. One might assume the originator of Sriracha is riding the wave of this trend and raking in the dough, but this is not necessarily the case. David Tran, owner of Huy Fong Foods, the company responsible for commercializing this sauce, never trademarked the name.
Tran, a Vietnamese refugee, began selling Sriracha 25 years ago, but never sought trademark protection. As the sauce grew in popularity, several Sriracha “knockoffs” popped up on the market. Large companies such as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Subway began to market new Sriracha flavored menu items. If Tran had registered his trademark years ago, when he first started selling his sauce, he would have the right to license the use of the Trademark “Sriracha” to these large companies. Because he did not, he has missed this opportunity and as a result, is losing out on thousands and possibly millions of dollars in royalties.
Despite the loss of potential revenue, Trans says he does not regret not filing for trademark protection for the name. He believes all the “Sriracha buzz” is more valuable as a free marketing tool. And while the actual name of the popular sauce is not trademarked, Tran has trademarked the familiar green cap and rooster logo.
Tran admits he has received many calls over the years from lawyers advising him to protect his brand name. Some other companies have attempted to apply for the trademark themselves, but courts have determined the term is now generic because of it wide use. Still, there are others who don’t believe “Sriracha” could have ever been trademarked in the first place. Interestingly, the name comes from the city Sri Racha, where the sauce originates. This would make the trademark “Sriracha” geographically descriptive and likely to be refused by the USPTO office.
The story of Huy Fong’s Sriracha Sauce is a cautionary tale to companies and creative to apply for trademarks early, before it’s too late. You never know if your goods or services will become the next teen craze or hipster fad.