Aloha Poke Co. Rewarded For Trademark Bullying With Protests Outside Its Headquarters In Chicago

On the matter of trademark bullying, we typically talk about these cases as matters of legal outcomes and courtroom repercussions. Less discussed is the power of the masses in the form of protest and public shaming in order to combat trademark bullies. And, yet, that appears to be part of the equation trying to solve the irritation that is Aloha Poke Co.’s trademark bullying of actual Hawaiian poke joints out of their own culture.

You will recall that we recently discussed Aloha Poke Co., the Chicago-based poke chain that doesn’t count any actual Hawaiians among its founders, firing off cease and desist letters to all manner of other joints that use some version of “Aloha” and “Poke” in their names. Most of these other entities are owned and operated by actual Hawaiians, from which both words and their cultural relevance stems. With so many entities out there using what are fairly generic terms in the realm of anything Hawaiian, the suggestion for public confusion made by Aloha Poke Co. seems spurious at best. Perhaps as importantly, if the company thought that the public wouldn’t get wind of its bullying, it appears that it was very, very wrong, as protests at its Chicago headquarters have been organized.

The first protest is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday in front of Aloha Poke Co.’s corporate headquarters at 303 W. Madison St. Another one is scheduled 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Aug. 15 in front of the company’s Lincoln Park location at 818 W. Fullerton Ave. A march in the Loop is also being planned for Monday, though details are still being confirmed.

Lanialoha Lee, who founded Aloha Center Chicago, is spearheading the Aug. 15 protest. She first became aware of the controversy after watching the video from Dr. Kalama O Ka Aina. “Everybody I know messaged me about it,” says Lee. “It was all over my Facebook. I was really stunned.” Lee hopes that the protests open “more eyes on the corporate level and at the restaurant level.”

Most of those involved in organizing the protests are setting their aim on educating the restaurant as to how important these words and dishes are to Hawaiian culture, not to mention how those terms have been shared without incident across many businesses and restaurants. While that is exactly the right tone to take, it seems likely that the press surrounding the Chicago company being protested by Hawaiians and those interested in protecting Hawaiian culture will play a role as well. That will be all the more the case given some of the incendiary language choices the restaurant has engaged in when responding to the first news reports on its bullying, such as calling it all “fake news.”

That kind of public exposure and shaming can have as profound and a far speedier impact than any legal proceedings. Aloha Poke is in the business of making money, after all, and this kind of exposure and coverage carries no positive public relations weight at all. If trademark bullies can be defeated in the court of public opinion rather than in actual courtrooms, all the better.

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