Momofuku Will No Longer Wage Its 'Chili Crunch' Trademark War

Trademark and patent skirmishes happen all the time, sometimes morphing into all-out war, pitting big-time players against one another in corporate show-downs or legal standoffs. But this was different. In David and Goliath style, a giant in the Asian food and restaurant market threw the first stone, aimed downward at culinary members of the close-knit Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. The conflict centers on a common Asian condiment known as 'chili crunch' for which celebrity chef David Chang and his Momofuku food and restaurant empire was attempting to obtain and enforce a trademark. Chang's Momofuku took the step of threatening small companies also using the term — but is now back-pedaling after a public uproar.

Momofuku has already trademarked the name chile crunch, spelled with an "e" and was also applying for ownership of the similar spelling of chili crunch, with an "i," which is also commonly called chili crisp. By naming the spicy, crunchy oil-based Momofuku condiment "crunch" instead of "crisp," Chang claimed proprietary use, consequently mailing out seven cease-and-desist letters to small-scale makers of products with the same name. The backlash was swift and personal. Many took issue with trademarking a name that's been used so prolifically in Asian family recipes for generations. The letters gave recipients 90 days to discontinue using both versions of the chili crunch name. 

Now, less than two weeks after The Guardian published an article in which a lawyer for one of the smaller businesses called Momofuku a "trademark bully," Chang and Momofuku have made an about-face. He has announced that his company would no longer enforce this trademark fight. 

Backlash and refection change Chang's trademark enforcement

David Chang has passionate fans, many of whom see him as a role model and a shining example of success in the industry. That includes some recipients of the letter, who expressed disappointment and sadness that Chang would undercut others who are bringing Asian foods into the mainstream of American cuisine. Others fought back in unconventional ways. A spokesperson for Seattle's MiLA food brand, which received a letter, even issued a taste-test challenge over social media, offering to settle the matter with a blind taste of each company's product, suggesting that "Winner keeps the name, loser (it'll be you) backs off."

Whatever the reason for changing course, Momofuku will no longer challenge those once perceived as violating the trademarked name. In a statement emailed to the Associated Press, Chang explained his change of heart: "Over the past week, we have heard the feedback from our community and now understand that the term 'chili crunch' carries broader meaning for many," he wrote. "This situation has created a painful divide between Momofuku, the AAPI community we care deeply about, and other companies sharing grocery store shelves. But the truth is, we all want the same things: to grow, to succeed and to make America's pantries and grocery stores a more diverse place."