In Court, A Trademark Battle Turns Personal For Two Fish Sauce Makers

Date: September 15, 2014

Federal trademark trial pits a family-owned industry behemoth against a fledgling maker of artisan fish sauce

In court, two fish sauce makers recount their personal ties to the staple in Vietnamese cooking


…Last week's federal trademark trial between the two fish sauce companies pitted a family-owned, three-decade behemoth in the Asian food industry that sells five lines of fish sauce against a newcomer that prides itself on making a premium, artisan version that has become the darling of celebrity chefs. …

Attorneys for Pham's company countered that Anhing's mark was far from iconic. They noted that Anhing uses the logo in various other colors in addition to red, including in gold on a long-running television commercial, and often with the brand name "Caravelle," a French word for sailing boat. Fish sauce isn't even one of Anhing's best-selling or primary products, they contended.

"This mark is not the end-all, be-all mark that Anhing wants you to believe it is," [Pham’s] attorney Steven Tiller told jurors. Moreover, the drastically different prices make confusion unlikely, he said. Anhing's sauces sell for less than $2 a bottle; Red Boat's bottles retail for $5 to $12, he said.

Jurors on Thursday sided with Pham's Red Boat and its maker, finding there was no infringement. Had Anhing won, Pham's company would have been ordered to stop using its mark and turn over the proceeds from Red Boat sales.

An attorney for Anhing said the company would appeal. Pham said he felt the case was the "big guy versus the little guy" and he was relieved to return to focusing on making good fish sauce. "This is more than just a condiment," he said. "It's so good, it's like gold."