The World's Tastiest Intellectual Property
BY Mike Hofman
A lawsuit involving two chefs and the intellectual property of the raw bar has been settled out of court, the New York Timesreports. The suit was brought by Rebecca Charles of New York City against her onetime sous chef and current rival, Edward McFarland. She runs a restaurant called Pearl Oyster Bar, he runs Ed's Lobster Bar. As part of her complaint, she accused him of stealing both the look of her restaurant and its recipes. Charles was particularly exercised by the dressing McFarland employed on his Caesar salad, which was, she alleges, her mother's secret recipe. (I originally blogged about this case last June.)
The intellectual property claims presented by the case were novel for the food world, and Charles' lawyers also argued that a sous chef has a fiduciary responsibility to a restaurant, which McFarland had violated.
Charles, who is, according to the Times, in Maine taking care of a sick relative, said she was happy with the settlement, although she wished she could have pursued the suit in order to establish some sort of new legal framework governing restaurants. Ed's Lobster Bar has coincidentally or not made a few changes to its menu and décor in recent weeks, which seem to render moot some of Charles's objections.
And what does the rest of the restaurant world make of this? The blog Eater Joe Bastianich, Mario Batali's partner, what he made of the case, and he said the following: "Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and if you can't let people run with your ideas then get out of the game."
What do you think? Can a restaurant menu item be protected under intellectual property, or is this just another instance of someone trying to protect something that should be in the public domain/in my belly?
Last updated: Apr 21, 2008
MIKE HOFMAN was previously editor of Inc.com and a deputy editor at Inc. magazine, which he joined in 1996. The site was nominated for a National Magazine Award for Digital Media in 2010, and was named the best business website by Folio Magazine. In 2006, Hofman was part of a team of writers nominated for a Webby Award for best business blog. He lives in New York City. @mikehofman