San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Food Fight

Chifrijo-Gate moves forward as Costa Rica court to hear lawsuit against 49 businesses

A civil court in the province of Cartago next week will begin hearing a case against 49 hotels, restaurants and bars being sued by a bar owner claiming unauthorized use of the name “Chifrijo” to sell one of Costa Rica’s favorite bar foods, or bocas.

Miguel Cordero, owner of Cordero’s Bar in Tibás, northwest of San José, registered the name Chifrijo at Costa Rica’s Registry of Industrial Property Trademarks in 2002 as “Chifrijo Cordero’s.” He is seeking $15 million for infringement of rights from businesses of all sizes across the country for using the brand name.

The widely popular boca derives its name from two of its main ingredients: chicharrones (pork rinds) and frijoles (beans). Other ingredients include diced tomatoes, spices, hot sauce and tortilla chips.

Judge Mauricio Vega Camacho in October dismissed Cordero’s claim of “infringements to the Trademarks Law and unfair competition.” Vega at the time ruled that the dish is prepared with common ingredients and without any particular preparation, therefore it can not be patented.

Cordero’s attorney, Ariana Araya Yockchen, appealed, stating that Judge Vega misinterpreted the terms of their complaint. “Our claim is for the use of the brand name, not for the dish,” she said.

A Superior Civil Court overturned Judge Vega’s decision last week and ordered the reopening of the case.

The court last week requested 49 copies of the complaint to serve all defendants.

“We submitted all the documents on Friday, so I believe defendants will begin receiving court papers as soon as next week,” Araya told The Tico Times on Wednesday.

Each defendant must respond to the complaint either with arguments against the claim or by requesting a settlement with Cordero.

As soon as all defendants are served and deadlines to respond expire, the court will set a date for the trial against defendants who do not respond to the complaint.

“We are open to settling with all of the defendants. The amounts definitely will be much smaller than those requested in the lawsuit, as our primary interest is to protect our rights,” Araya said.

The lawyer added that for the Cordero family it is important consumers understand the family is not trying to prevent the popular dish from being served at tables around the country.

“Anyone can prepare it and even sell it, but they can not sell it using the name Chifrijo,” she said.

Chifrijo Cordero’s is currently patented with the National Registry as “a cocktail-type food or snack to accompany drinks.” Neither the ingredients nor the preparation are registered as trademark procedures in Costa Rica.

Some businesses have followed the plaintiff’s recommendations and currently are offering the popular boca under different names like “Chichifrijo,” “Chifrijol,” “El Innombrable” (“The Nameless”) or simply “Chicharrón & Frijoles.”

The list of sued businesses includes mostly restaurants and bars, but also big names in international franchises such as KFC and Hooters, and hotels such as Barceló San José Palacio, Real Intercontinental, Four Seasons, Marriott, Aurola Holiday Inn, Sheraton, Double Tree Cariari by Hilton, Crown Plaza and Balmoral.

Recommended: ‘Chifrijo-gate’: a dish, a lawsuit, and the origins of a Tico classic

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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