US restaurateur takes copycat chef to court

05 July 2007 by
US restaurateur takes copycat chef to court

Industry figures have questioned a New York restaurateur's attempt to sue a former employee for allegedly copying her restaurant.

Rebecca Charles, chef-proprietor of Manhattan eaterie Pearl Oyster Bar, has lodged a legal suit against her former sous-chef of six years, Ed McFarland. She is charging him with copying "each and every element" of her restaurant, including the menu and interior style, and recreating it at his own.

The case marks one of the first instances in which a proprietor has gone to court over intellectual property and, if successful, could set a new precedent.

However, UK restaurateurs criticised the move, saying that while it might be morally objectionable to copy another restaurant, there should be no legal implications.

Simon Rogan, chef-proprietor of Michelin-starred L'Enclume in Cartmel in the Lake District, argued that as the sous chef dedicated six years of hard work to the restaurant, he had the right to take with him what he had learnt.

"While I think it's sad that he has chosen to copy rather than create his own individual restaurant, legally I don't think there should be an issue with this," Rogan said.

Paul Heathcote, director of Heathcotes, said that most chefs found inspiration in other chefs' work, particularly their mentors. "All chefs are magpies and take ideas from one other," he said. "I don't think Charles stands a chance in court."

Antony Gold, head of intellectual property at law firm Eversheds, said that while in the UK it was generally difficult to complain about an infringement of ideas, the case would depend on specific details.

"If there is an imitation that results in the confusion of customers, the law of ‘passing off' applies relating to names and decor which can be protected," he said.

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By Kerstin Kühn

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