South Africa: Chicken Licken’s Hot Wings

Last Updated: 30 October 2012
Article by Lauren Frizelle

Most Read Contributor in South Africa, September 2016

Fast food chain, Chicken Licken, recently obtained an interim interdict in the KZN High Court against a competitor called Big Jo's.  The order required Big Jo's to stop using the term Hot Wings for one of its menu items. Chicken Licken claimed that it has trade mark rights to Hot Wings, having used the term for many years, and having registered it as a trade mark. In its court papers Chicken Licken claimed that the use of the term Hot Wings by Big Jo's gave it 'a tremendous springboard into the market place', with the result that Big Jo's 'start out not on the first rung of the ladder, as everyone else has done, but halfway up, riding on our coat-tails'.  It seems that Big Jo's did try to avoid legal proceedings by offering to change the name of its menu item from Hot Wings to Shisa Wings, but that Chicken Licken turned this offer down. Why? Because 'shisa' is the Zulu word for 'hot'.

The case highlights some interesting aspects of trade mark law. It highlights the fact  that it is sometimes possible to get trade mark rights to a perfectly ordinary word or term, for example one that simply describes the product  – Hot Wings is, of course,  pretty descriptive of a type of chicken fast food.  Every trade mark lawyer will tell you that you should  use a distinctive word or term as a trade mark rather than a descriptive one,  and this is good advice because it is very difficult to get any sort of exclusivity to something that is descriptive of the product. Yet, a word or term that is descriptive of the product, or is in some other way non-distinctive (perhaps because it's a laudatory word or a geographical name), can become distinctive of a single company or product over time if it is used on a considerable scale.  A word or term that has become distinctive through use can in certain cases be registered, and it can in certain cases also form the basis of a successful passing off claim. An example might be South African Airways, which is totally descriptive of the service, but which has in fact become distinctive of one company and which could, in my view, be enforced against third parties. 

Adopting a descriptive or otherwise weak trade mark rather than a distinctive one is, however,  a risky game to play. First, it can take many years to reach a stage of acquired distinctiveness and during this period there is no protection. Second, there's no guarantee that a court will agree with your assessment that your mark has become distinctive through use  - courts have, by way of example, held that Lotto was not a valid trade mark for  lottery services (descriptive), that Premier was not a valid trade mark for banking services (laudatory), and that Century City was not a valid trade mark for retail services (geographical). Third, even if you do get registration or judicial recognition of distinctiveness, your rights may in fact be very limited, and quite possibly restricted to the exact word or term.   Finally, if your trade mark is descriptive there's every chance that you'll be faced with a defence that's specifically provided for in the Trade Marks Act, and which goes like this: we aren't using the  word or term that you've registered as a trade mark, but simply as a way of describing the product. In this case it would involve Big Jo's claiming that its use of Hot Wings was simply a way of describing its spicy chicken wing product.

The case also highlights  that something as little as the name of a menu item can enjoy trade mark rights. The name of a menu item is a kind of sub brand, and comparable examples might be McDonalds' Big Mac or McFlurry, and KFC's Rounder.  Names like these are undoubtedly associated with the chains that offer the products. Trade mark law is essentially about avoiding consumer confusion and, in its court papers, Chicken Licken said this: 'As each day goes by, it is more and more likely that members of the public will associate Big Jo's with Chicken Licken.'   It's quite conceivable that consumers knowing Chicken Licken's Hot Wings might assume that Big Jo's Hot Wings is the same thing, or that there is some sort of connection between the two chains, perhaps through franchising or co-branding.  All that's necessary in cases like this is to show that a significant number of people might wonder whether there is some connection.

Lastly, the case  highlights a trade mark issue that arises in a multilingual country like ours. Chicken Licken refused Big Jo's offer to change the name from Hot Wings to Shisa Wings because much of its clientele in KZN is Zulu speaking. A translation of a registered trade mark can, in certain cases, infringe the registration, and in my view Shisa Wings would be an infringement of Hot  Wings. There have been cases on this point in South Africa: in a case involving the magazine trade mark Getaway, a court held that the use of the Afrikaans translation Wegbreek was an infringement; in another case involving the wine trade mark Chameleon, a court held that use of Lovane (derived from 'ulovane', the Xhosa word for 'chameleon') was not an infringement.  The cases are not easy to reconcile, but there is no doubt that translations are something that you need to consider when adopting a trade mark.

A whole lot of trade mark law in one little case!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.