The owner of a well known restaurant in New York City has sued a former employee who has opened another restaurant, which, she accuses, is a copy of hers.
Rebecca Charles, owner of the Pearl Oyster Bar, claims that her former sous-chef, Ed McFarland, has stolen her intellectual property by opening Ed’s Lobster Bar, which she says, copies each and every element from the décor to the menu of her restaurant.
Most restaurants resemble each other to some extent and even Ms. Charles acknowledges that her own restaurant was inspired by another one in San Francisco. Recently, some restaurant owners have begun invoking intellectual property concepts, such as patents, trademarks, and trade dress in order to protect the most distinctive aspects of their restaurants.
Clearly the name of a restaurant can be trademarked, but can a recipe be patented? Doesn’t patenting the recipe for a cake in a restaurant, for example, a chef’s flight of fancy, bring it crashing down to the level of a mundane package of cookies purchased at the supermarket? Can the décor, the menu, and the ambiance be covered by trade dress or by copyright? These are questions that may soon be debated by a jury in what appears to be the first ever intellectual property litigation over a restaurant’s ambiance.