Chef James Cochran has hit out at his former employer after the owners of restaurant James Cochran EC3 revealed they would be leasing his name along with the restaurant's signature recipes.
The website jamescochran.co.uk was discovered by the chef on Sunday, on the eve of his first Great British Menu (GBM) appearance. While not yet officially launched, licensing plans starting at £25 to sell EC3's dishes branded with Cochran's name, were detailed.
Cochran left EC3 earlier this year. The restaurant is expected to rebrand as 19 Bevis Marks in the near future, however it will still offer ‘James Cochran branded' dishes.
In response to the site, the chef tweeted: "Anyone wanna buy me? My ex-employers are the lowest of low trying to sell off my name as recipe plans??!! Wtf??
"Who is going to pay £25 a week just to add my name in front of the recipe?? I will give you the recipes for free if you're that low!!"
The website lists in full the company's rights to use Cochran's name and displays the slogan "trademarked for a reason".
The restaurant's Twitter account, manned by one of EC3's owners, posted in defence of the decision - adding that the company had "bet their business success on one employee", along with claims that James was a "volatile person".
Chefs lined up to pour condemnation on the company, prompting James Cochran EC3 to reply: "Please refrain from giving advice if you do not know the ins and outs of the situation.
"It's rarely black and white. Check out UK Patent Act 1977 which states that owner of all intellectual property (inc trademarks) will be the employer. James Cochran was a paid employee, not an owner. End of story.
"Furthermore, trademark was filed long before James surprised everyone at EC3 by handing in his resignation and GBM series finished filming. We wish James well, but we will defend our business vigorously against baseless accusations and defamatory statements."
They went on to claim that when they offered James ownership of the brand, he replied "keep it" and that it was "naive to assume" the company would not "be looking to monetise it".
The company added: "Let me say it again: It is not all black and white. You didn't bet your business success on one employee, did you? It takes a degree of trust, especially if you are dealing with a volatile person like James. Not the 1st business he brought down - FIX, anyone?"
FIX, Cochran's restaurant before his time at EC3, operated for roughly six months before closing down.
An EC3 spokesman told The Caterer the company's owners, largely from the world of finance and law, declined a four-figure offer from Cochran to buy his name back as it "was less than it actually cost to trademark it". However, they are believed to be open to future offers for the brand, which has been independently valued at £25-35,000.
He added that the company's market research showed that few customers knew who Cochran was.
Speaking of this year's Taste of London festival in Regent's Park, where the restaurant sold £25,000 of the licenced dishes from a pop-up stand, he added: "There's no denying that it was a huge success in terms of the actual food itself.
"Whether those people knew who James Cochran was, whether those people perceived that the Banksy-style stencil actually depicted a real person as opposed to a Ronald McDonald clown, I couldn't say."
James Cochran has been approached for comment.
While rarer in hospitality, lawyers told The Caterer that disputes over names are seen frequently in the world of fashion, such as in 2016 when Karen Millen lost her fight to trade under her own name after selling a stake in her clothing business for £95m.
Maninder Gill, a partner at law firm Simons, Muirhead & Burton, explained that Cochran would have to look into his contract to see if he had a legal argument to make against his former employer.
He said: "It's very common for a person that owns a business to register their name as a trademark; it's less common for an employer to be allowed by contract to register the name of their employee - so it's very interesting and James will have to dig up the paperwork and take some legal advice on what rights he provided to them. But generally you can't register a trademark in the name of third parties, whether they are a new employee or not, without their consent."
Gill added: "In terms of the name, it depends on what rights he has signed away. If he signed away the rights to his name to the trademark owners, he will have to - unfortunately - live with that decision. However, if he hadn't provided the trademark owners with the right to register his name, then that's a very different issue."