It is unlikely that when William Shakespeare wrote that now famous phrase “what’s in a name?” he had Korean Tacos in mind. Yet, there are hardly better words to express the controversy that has arisen around the word ‘Kogi’ in the world of tacos in the past few weeks.
It is quite possible that frequent readers of this taco-loving publication will recognize the word from a number of Korean taco-related articles recently published herein. Kogi BBQ, the Los Angeles based Korean BBQ taco truck that communicates its location to interested clients via Twitter, has received a lot of face time on this blog and elsewhere as a result of its innovative adaptation of Korean BBQ to the taco and the taco truck. Not only has the concept inspired some taco lovers to attempt to replicate Kogi BBQ’s recipes at home–especially we taco-deprived easterners–but it has even resulted in the spawning operations (see May 13th and May 31st posts).
Amazingly, some non-wheeled taco establishments have even begun picking up on Korean BBQ tacos. Recently, Baja Fresh the ubiquitous 300+ unit Tex-Mex burrito-and-taquería announced that it would begin serving its own version of Korean BBQ tacos under the name ‘Baja Kogi,’ as evidenced in the photo above.
Were it the case that Baja Fresh were simply adopting the Korean taco from Kogi BBQ as has already been done by other taquerías, what has become a major controversy may never have reached this blog as it there would have been no question as to the legality of the Baja Fresh’s actions. The origin of the controversy is to be found, however, in the adoption of not only the style of taco but also its name ‘kogi’ by Baja Fresh.
As I’m told, many copyright infringement proceedings are clear-cut cases, this one is not due to the meaning of the word Kogi in Korean: meat (고기). Does Kogi BBQ have exclusive rights to the word as a consequence of being the first firm to offer the Korean BBQ taco under that name? Whereas a word such as ‘meat’ or ‘vegetable’ could never be copyrighted in English, does the fact that the word ‘kogi’ is more widely recognized as a brand name than as a word mean that it is trademark infringement? These are questions that remain to be answered.
Update 9:35 am Pacific: Melanie Wong points out that Baja Fresh is now calling them ‘Baja Gogi‘ and not Baja Kogi. According to LAist, Chuck Rink, president of Fresh Enterprises, which owns Baja Fresh, released a statement clarifying what his company is doing:
Baja Fresh wants to clarify that our Korean BBQ style “Kogi” chicken and beef tacos and burritos, concept testing right now in one Irvine store, was by no means intended to seem “stolen” from the famous LA-area Kogi taco truck.
Rather, we were under the impression that “Kogi” was the generic word for Korean BBQ style. We have since learned “Gogi” is the general word and will be moving to change our naming to Gogi, for the Irvine store, and for any future roll outs of these products.
I’m still not sure what the difference between a “generic word” and a “general word” are, but whatev. -CF