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Intellectual Property?

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
Here's an interesting article from the front page of the NY Times today.
It involves an intellectual property suit by one restaurant owner against another who, seemingly, opened a restaurant with the same style, recipes, presentation et al, after working at the original.

What do you think?

I don't know-am of two minds about it. It seems that the dishes are kind of readily accessible and from a tradition that can be reproduced by any Tom, Dick or Harry. However, the similarities are a little too close to not be considered a direct lift. Also, if Fuddruckers can protect its concept, why not the non-corporate private chef/owner?

Here's the article-fron the NY Times (6/27/2007):

Chef Sues Over Intellectual Property (the Menu)
Single Page

Published: June 27, 2007
Sometimes, Rebecca Charles wishes she were a little less influential.

Enlarge This Image

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Pearl Oyster Bar
Enlarge This Image

Oscar Hidalgo/The New York Times
Ed's Lobster Bar
She was, she asserts, the first chef in New York who took lobster rolls, fried clams and other sturdy utility players of New England seafood cookery and lifted them to all-star status on her menu. Since opening Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village 10 years ago, she has ruefully watched the arrival of a string of restaurants she considers “knockoffs” of her own.

Yesterday she filed suit in Federal District Court in Manhattan against the latest and, she said, the most brazen of her imitators: Ed McFarland, chef and co-owner of Ed’s Lobster Bar in SoHo and her sous-chef at Pearl for six years.

The suit, which seeks unspecified financial damages from Mr. McFarland and the restaurant itself, charges that Ed’s Lobster Bar copies “each and every element” of Pearl Oyster Bar, including the white marble bar, the gray paint on the wainscoting, the chairs and bar stools with their wheat-straw backs, the packets of oyster crackers placed at each table setting and the dressing on the Caesar salad.

Mr. McFarland would not comment on the complaint, saying that he had not seen it yet. But he said that Ed’s Lobster Bar, which opened in March, was no imitator.

“I would say it’s a similar restaurant,” he said, “I would not say it’s a copy.”

Lawyers for Ms. Charles, 53, said that what Ed’s Lobster Bar had done amounted to theft of her intellectual property — the kind of claim more often seen in publishing and entertainment, or among giant restaurant chains protecting their brand.

In recent years, a handful of chefs and restaurateurs have invoked intellectual property concepts, including trademarks, patents and trade dress — the distinctive look and feel of a business — to defend their restaurants, their techniques and even their recipes, but most have stopped short of a courtroom. The Pearl Oyster Bar suit may be the most aggressive use of those concepts by the owner of a small restaurant. Some legal experts believe the number of cases will grow as chefs begin to think more like chief executives.

Charles Valauskas, a lawyer in Chicago who represents a number of restaurants and chefs in intellectual property matters, called their discovery of intellectual property law “long overdue” and attributed it to greater competition as well as the high cost of opening a restaurant.

“Now the stakes are so high,” he said. “The average restaurant can be millions of dollars. If I were an investor I’d want to do something to make sure my investment is protected.”

Ms. Charles’s investment was modest. She built Pearl Oyster Bar for about $120,000 — a cost that in today’s market qualifies as an early-bird special.

She acknowledged that Pearl was itself inspired by another narrow, unassuming place, Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco. But she said she had spent many months making hundreds of small decisions about her restaurant’s look, feel and menu.

Those decisions made the place her own, she said, and were colored by her history. The paint scheme, for instance, was meant to evoke the seascape along the Maine coast where she spent summers as a girl.

“My restaurant is a personal reflection of me, my experience, my family,” she said. “That restaurant is me.”

Mr. McFarland, she said, had unfairly profited from all the thought she had put into building Pearl. “To have that handed to you, so you don’t have to make those decisions — it’s unfair,” she said.

But the detail that seems to gnaw at her most is a $7 appetizer on Mr. McFarland’s menu: “Ed’s Caesar.”

She has never eaten it, but she and her lawyers claim it is made from her own Caesar salad recipe, which calls for a coddled egg and English muffin croutons.

She learned it from her mother, who extracted it decades ago from the chef at a long-gone Los Angeles restaurant. It became a kind of signature at Pearl. And although she taught Mr. McFarland how to make it, she said she had guarded the recipe more closely than some restaurateurs watch their wine cellars.

“When I taught him, I said, ‘You will never make this anywhere else,’ ” she insisted. According to lawyers for Ms. Charles, the Caesar salad recipe is a trade secret and Mr. McFarland had no more business taking it with him after he left than a Coca-Cola employee entrusted with the formula for Diet Coke.

Mr. McFarland called the allegation that he was a Caesar salad thief “a pretty ridiculous claim.”

“I have my own recipes for my items,” he said.

Asked to elaborate on the differences between his restaurant and Pearl, Mr. McFarland said: “I’d say it’s a lot more upscale than Pearl. A lot neater, a lot cleaner and a lot nicer looking.” Ed’s Lobster Bar incorporates novel features like a raw bar and a skylight, he said; as for the white marble bar, he said one could be seen in “every raw bar” in Boston, where he had done “additional homework in designing the dining room.”

Lars Klove for The New York Times, top, and Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Rebecca Charles, top, owner of Pearl Oyster Bar and Ed McFarland of Ed’s Lobster Bar.
Calling the lawsuit “a complete shock to me,” Mr. McFarland went on to say: “I just find it interesting that she’d want to draw attention to the fact that she’s bringing a lawsuit against me that’s just going to bring more business my way. I personally have nothing to be concerned about, in my opinion.”

Other chefs, however, are taking intellectual property rights seriously.

One of Mr. Valauskas’s clients, Homaro Cantu, has applied for patents on a number of his culinary inventions, like a method for printing pictures of food on flavored, edible paper. Mr. Cantu also makes his cooks sign a nondisclosure agreement before they so much as boil water at Moto, his restaurant in Chicago.

Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, said that this almost seemed an inevitable result of bringing lawyers into the kitchen. “The first thing a lawyer would say is have all your people sign nondisclosure agreements,” he said. “It’s a classic American marriage between food and law.”

Few chefs have followed Mr. Cantu’s footsteps all the way to the Patent and Trademark Office. One who did is David Burke, the chef at David Burke & Donatella, on the Upper East Side and other restaurants. He said he had trademarked a “swordfish chop” and “salmon pastrami” but no longer tried to defend those terms from copycats.

“You’ve got to chase people down if they use it. I got tired of it,” he said. But he said he still applied for trademarks on more recent innovations, like his bacon-flavored spray.

Many chefs are skeptical that intellectual property law conforms to their line of work. Tom Colicchio said that he had decided not to do anything about a sandwich shop that he considers a clone of his sandwich chain, ’Wichcraft. “There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “You can’t protect recipes, you can’t protect what a place looks like, it’s impossible.”

But Ms. Charles is willing to spend some time and money to prove her point. (She once sued the partner she opened Pearl with, Mary Redding, in an ownership dispute. Ms. Redding went on to open her own West Village seafood restaurant, Mary’s Fish Camp.)

Ms. Charles has come to think that if this case forces Ed’s Lobster Bar to change until it no longer resembles Pearl Oyster Bar, it could be the most influential thing she has ever done.

“I thought if I could have success with this lawsuit, that could be an important contribution,” she said. “If some guy in California is having problems, he could go to his lawyer and look at this case and say, ‘Maybe we can do something about it.’ ”


Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!



Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

post #2 of 4
While I understand her frustration, I don't think she has a bar stool to sit on. She herself admits to "stealing" her concept from another restaurant, but she "tweaked it" and made it her own. Her mother stole her "special recipe" from another chef and she wants to claim ownership?!? Pardon the pun but I don't think she can have the cake and eat it too. Ed did the exact same thing she did and gave it his own tweaks. Turnabout in this case seems to be fair play. Now if she had him sign a non-compete and or disclosure form then it would be another story, but she didn't so to me it seems too bad, so sad, git along.:o
My latest musical venture!
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
My latest musical venture!
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
post #3 of 4
Interesting. I discussed this with chefguy---he was like, well, all her sweat? Stolen? I'd be pissed. Sure, get the best lawyer you can and take him to the cleaners.

I am, however, of a different mind. As I mentioned in my introduction post, I have a background in art, and as I didn't mention, I was a photo editor/agent in NYC for years and waitressed (actually across the street from the Pearl Oyster Bar for one stint) when I couldn't get photo gigs. So I do know a bit about intellectual property.

In the photo world it went like this: If a magazine, say, saw a photo you took and reproduced it without permission and without paying the photographer---that's a clearcut copyright violation. However, if an artist used your photo and copied elements of it to create a whole new artwork that incorporated other elements beside the copied image---well, that's fair use.

So, I agree with the previous poster, the poor woman doesn't have a barstool to sit on. If it were identical---same name, same layout, same menu, okay---but if you take a concept and make it your own--tough bananas.

And recipes are not copyrightable; Martha Stewart is notorious for swiping recipes. And look where it got her. Sure she went to jail, but that was for lying about insider trading, not recipe stealing.

Them's my two cents.
post #4 of 4


maybe one also could see it as a compliment? if the original would have been no good, it would not have been copied?
and i wonder if croutons for a caesar salad done from muffins or a simple baton of white bread make so much difference.
if you want to make sure yours is realy yours, well than yo ustart your copyright thing and non-user clause for the chef right from the beginning...
but a clever chef will than claim that he is using 5% apple vinegar from france and not italy as in the original recipe and it is different...
and virgin olive oil from greece and not italy..
to me all this is a waste of time, except the lawyers will have a good time!
good food, one of the few pleasures left to mankind...
good food, one of the few pleasures left to mankind...
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