South Korean 'Tim House' has Tim Hortons vigilant over trademark

There is no Tim Hortons franchise in South Korea, but that hasn't stopped people from wondering about the story behind "Tim House," a soon-to-open coffee house in Daerim, a neighbourhood in Seoul.

In a city known for its knockoffs, a cafe calling itself Tim House looks surprisingly familiar

With its red, cursive font, the sign on the outside of the café looks eerily familiar.

While there is no Tim Hortons franchise in South Korea, that hasn't stopped people from wondering about the story behind "Tim House," a soon-to-open coffee house in Daerim, a neighbourhood in Seoul.

Earlier this week, a photo of Tim House attracted international attention. The picture was taken by A.J. Specht, a Canadian English teacher who was biking by and noticed the familiar-looking sign.

She posted a snapshot on Facebook, and it began to attract attention from Canadians in South Korea and at home.

But the Tim House logo is where the resemblance ends, at least for now. Tim House has yet to open, and its owner isn't talking.

Brand borrowing common in Korea

For example, Canada Goose coats — both real and fake — are extremely popular. A trendy brand of hiking wear called The Redface bears a striking similarity to The North Face.

Outside Tim House, a street sign written in Chinese announces a March 15 opening date, but inside, there are only workmen and piles of wood. Tim House is located in Daerim, a predominantly Chinese-Korean neighbourhood in southwest Seoul.

Kim Seong-Geun, who is renting the entire building and opening the coffee shop — as well as a multi-floor wedding hall — refused to comment.

The building's landlord, Song Joong-Wan, says he's never heard of the Canadian franchise. When CBC showed him the Tim Hortons logo, he said he could see the resemblance, but suggested that Daerim would be an unlikely place to open up a new franchise.

"Foreign brands open in Gangnam, Hongdae or Yeouido," he said, referring to Seoul's more upscale neighbourhoods. "Not Daerim."

Real Tim's will 'take steps'

In a statement to CBC News, Tim Hortons spokeswoman Michelle Robichaud said that the company is "thrilled that the Tim Hortons brand is loved and recognized around the world, but we’re always vigilant when it comes to protecting our intellectual property, especially as we expand internationally. Although we are not currently operating in South Korea, we will continue to take the necessary steps to protect our trademarks."

Although Song is not involved in the opening of Tim House, he expected that the coffee shop would be operating by the end of the month.

It'll face tough competition in a market saturated with cafés, both independent and franchised. Seoul has the highest number of Starbucks locations in the world, with 284 stores compared to 277 in New York City.


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