McDonalds forces Swiss firm to drop Mc from name

The fast food giant stands accused of "corporate bullying" Keystone

The McDonalds chain has forced a tiny Swiss health care firm to drop the prefix from its name. The Swiss company, originally called McWellness, has accused the fast food giant of "corporate bullying".

This content was published on July 17, 2000 minutes

The company had to change its name after McDonalds filed its complaint to the United States Tradename and Patent Office.

The case is currently under appeal, but the Basel-based firm, which employs 45 people and provides up-market global health care for 1,000 Swiss and German executives, said it had been cowed into changing its name last month from McWellness to GetWellness because it could not afford a long and costly legal battle.

In a letter to the patent office, McDonalds argued the name would "create confusion" and "cause damage to its hard-earned goodwill".

Barbara Staehelin, who co-founded the firm formerly known as McWellness in 1997, said she was baffled because - unlike other firms challenged over the "Mc", such as British sandwich shop McMunchies and a Danish sausage stall called McAlan's - her firm had nothing to do with fast food.

Staehelin, a Swiss-American, said the name was inspired by her former employers McKinsey and Co - a name, she said, which seemed to promise global standards.

"Although our case is very strong, we decided not to fight it because we didn't want to be put through a long period of uncertainty and it would have been very expensive."

"We just can't compete with McDonalds' financial clout. They have a whole team of lawyers on retainer. It would have cost us millions," Staehelin said, adding: "You might call it corporate bullying".

Staehelin said she had tried everything to avoid the $1.8 million (SFr2.9 million) name change and reach an amicable agreement with McDonalds, even offering to sell the US giant a stake in the company.

"We said it would give them some control over the name and how we use it, but we got corporate snubbing. They weren't interested. We kept searching for a dialogue with them and all we got was the cold shoulder," she said.

McDonalds has recently launched several non-food trademarks, such as McTravel and McSpacestation and its lawyers said in their letter to the US patent office that the corporation "will likely expand the use of its "Mc" formative marks to include the same services on which the McWellness mark is intended to be used".

by Fiona Fleck

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