“The trademark applications are people trying to jump on intellectual property that Russia has indicated may no longer be valid in the country,” Gerben said. “The trademarks are only good as long as the government says they are and as long as the courts say they are.”
There is no evidence that any of McDonald’s shuttered locations have actually reopened. But trademark applications could be a first step.
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The unfolding situation threatens more than 30 years of brand-building in Russia for McDonald’s. Now that trademark applications are filing in, a look at what this all means for the Chicago-based company is starting to take shape.
With a trademark for “McDonald’s,” someone could theoretically reopen the fast-food restaurants and sell burgers branded as Big Macs, but it would not be the same food. Experts say that could confuse consumers and weaken McDonald’s brand.
However, if the Russians were to reopen a McDonald’s location as an Uncle Vanya’s, that might not be as damaging to the company’s brand, Gerben said. In that scenario, it is clear to consumers that McDonald’s is no longer operating that restaurant.
Still, that precedent drastically hinders McDonald’s ability to regain control of those locations and could dampen the company’s desire to continue operating in a country that has no regard for its brand.
“You just never know when your restaurants are going to get seized and run by the government,” Gerben said.
McDonald’s opened its first location in the then-Soviet Union in Moscow’s Pushkin Square in January 1990. The Iron Curtain had just fallen, and tens of thousands of people lined up for hours to get their first taste of the West. The Golden Arches have become a proxy of America and globalization.
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Some had predicted McDonald’s might fall victim to anti-American sentiment or backlash from the Russian government, even before President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine three weeks ago. The company shut down its 108 stores in Ukraine in short order after the war began, but it held on to its Russian stores even amid mounting pressure.
Sales at those locations in both countries represent about 9% of the company’s overall revenue, so closing them was a hit to the company’s top line. McDonald’s continues to pay the salaries of its workers in Ukraine and its 62,000 Russian employees. Executives have since said the company will lose $50 million each month the Russian stores are closed. McDonald's representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.