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Court dismisses both parties' claims in wonton mee fight

Court dismisses both parties' claims in wonton mee fight

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 23 Dec 2020
Author: Selina Lum

But with a trademark dispute still before the court, the legal battle is far from over.

A court fight between the children of the man who founded Eng's wonton noodles and a business partner fizzled out yesterday, with each side losing its claims against the other.

But with a trademark dispute still before the court, the battle over the wonton mee business, which is known for its springy noodles and "gunpowder" chilli paste, is far from over.

The legal tussles arose from a joint venture between Mr Desmond Ng, 51 - the son of the late Mr Ng Ba Eng, who ran a successful hawker stall at Dunman Food Centre - and Ms Pauline New, 52.

In 2012, the stall moved to a shop called Eng's Noodles House at 287 Tanjong Katong Road, after Ms New's husband invested $150,000 to expand the business.

A company of the same name was registered, with the younger Mr Ng and Ms New as directors and shareholders.

The elder Mr Ng died in 2013. In 2018, after a falling-out between the partners, the company failed to renew the lease on the premises. It ceased business on Feb 28, 2018.

On the same day, a new company called Eng's Wantan Noodle was set up and took over the premises. The new lease was reportedly signed by Mr Thomas Hong, the chief executive of soup chain Lao Huo Tang.

On March 5, 2018, Mr Desmond Ng's sisters Mui Hong, 52, and Mei Ling, 48, set up a company called Eng's Char Siew Wantan Mee. They set up shop at 248 Tanjong Katong Road, doors away from Eng's Wantan Noodle.

Last year, Ms New sued the three siblings and Mr Bill Teng, who handled the accounts of the defunct Eng's Noodles House and was allotted a 5 per cent stake in the company.

She accused the defendants of conspiring to harm Eng's Noodles House by setting up a competing business.

Among other things, she pointed to the fact that Ms Ng Mui Hong had registered a trademark on Oct 3, 2017, comprising the word "Eng's", the Chinese characters for the brand, and a chilli logo. Ms New alleged that this was to prepare for the "usurping".

Ms New also alleged that Mr Ng and Mr Teng had breached their fiduciary duties to Eng's Noodles House. She accused Mr Teng of misappropriating company funds, but dropped the claim during the trial.

The Ng sisters counterclaimed against Ms New for "passing off", alleging that she and her husband, businessman Jason Sim, had "stolen the family business".

The sisters contended that Ms New and Mr Sim had helped set up Eng's Wantan Noodle, which has since expanded to multiple franchise outlets across the island.

A Straits Times check showed that the company is owned by a 27-year-old individual named Eng Ye Yeng.

In a written judgment yesterday, High Court judge Valerie Thean dismissed Ms New's claims that the defendants had conspired to harm Eng's Noodles House.

Justice Thean found that Ms Ng Mui Hong, who knew of the souring relationship, was taking pre-emptive steps to protect the brand when she registered the trademark.

The judge found that the sisters setting up shop at 248 was not a premeditated plan, but a "hasty" move to assert their "original" brand in reaction to Eng's Wantan Noodle taking over at 287.

The judge also found that Ms New and Mr Sim were instrumental in the setting up of Eng's Wantan Noodle.

Justice Thean rejected the counterclaim by the sisters that Ms New was misleading consumers into believing that Eng's Wantan Noodle was actually the same as their family business.

The judge said there was no doubt that during the years at Dunman Food Centre, the elder Mr Ng was the owner of the goodwill, or reputation, attached to the business.

However, the judge said the sisters failed to establish that the public attributed the goodwill to other members of the family aside from the late Mr Ng or Mr Desmond Ng, who had helped his father in the business since 2009.

The judge added that the passing off claim should have been brought against Eng's Wantan Noodle.

Mr Teng, through his lawyers Suresh Damodara and Clement Ong, said he was relieved to be vindicated in court.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.


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