Less than two months after it filed to trademark the phrase "Better Burger" for use as a new restaurant concept, Chipotle has abandoned the trademark. The company filed its application to trademark the names "Better Burger" and "Betterburger" on April 1. According to records obtained via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the terms were both abandoned as of May 24. The terms are currently listed as "dead" trademarks, i.e. ones no longer recognized by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Chipotle's Communications Director Chris Arnold told Eater the company "often file[s] trademarks we end up opting not to use. Use of that trademark was challenged, we weren't wedded to it, and we have simply opted not to use that trademark."
However, the company has not responded to questions about if it has also abandoned the idea of a burger concept altogether.
As Nation's Restaurant News reported, the use of the term "Better Burger" was controversial. When Luby's Fuddruckers applied to trademark the phrase "Better buns. Better burger," in 2012, it was refused, as the term was deemed to be merely descriptive.
Chipotle received its fair share of flack over the trademark application outside of the legal realm. In an opinion piece published on Fortune, restaurant analyst Howard Penney called the burger trademark a "distraction." Noting the company's previous forays into diversification with brands like Shophouse Asian Kitchen and Locale Pizza, which he said "shareholders have yet to be rewarded for," Penney wrote, "There's little reason to believe Chipotle will have better luck in the burger space, arguably the most competitive in the ‘quick serve' space."
Restaurant consultant Aaron Allen didn't mince words, either, writing in a LinkedIn post that the trademark was "most likely a half-cooked crisis communications tactic," albeit one that was "tone deaf in multiple ways." Allen added that the move was "a snub to the hundreds of better burger operators already out there for a company operating none of these business models to lay claim to the phrase coined long before they decided they wanted it."
Over the past several months, Chipotle's marketing team has been feverishly working to rebuild its reputation after a series of E. coli and norovirus outbreaks rocked the chain. The CDC declared the outbreaks officially over in February, but the burrito giant is still reeling months later.
In April, executives announced that same-store sales decreased 29.7 percent in the first quarter of 2016 — the company's first-ever quarterly loss. Even teens, arguably some of Chipotle's most loyal fans, have lost interest in the burrito giant in the last year.
The fast casual chain will soon unveil a new menu item (chorizo) and a loyalty program called Chiptopia in the hopes of luring customers back, but the burger dream is dead — at least for now.