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Predictions

by Mike Masnick




Intellectual Property Fights Move Into The Restaurant Business

from the ugh dept

When trying to explain the problems of today's intellectual property system, it's often useful to use pizza shops as an example. Competition is natural. No one, the idea goes, should feel that a competitor opening up a pizza shop down the street somehow "infringes" on another pizza shop. It's just basic competition -- the same type that has helped grow and benefit society for ages. However, in our over-lawyered age where suddenly everyone is looking for ways to apply the monopoly powers of intellectual property law to their own business, this may be changing. Just like there's a push underway to introduce new monopoly rights into the fashion industry in spite of (or, in fact, because of) a thriving competitive market, it appears that lawyers are now looking to do the same in the restaurant business. The NY Times writes about a restaurant owner who is suing the owner of a competing restaurant. It is true that the second owner used to work for the first, but saying he then cannot open a competing restaurant is ridiculous (and, is pretty clearly allowed by the law).

There are some amazingly ridiculous statements in the article. For example, the owner of the first restaurant, Rebecca Charles, is most upset by the fact that the owner of the second, Ed McFarland, offers a Caesar salad that Charles insists McFarland copied from her recipe. Of course, even she admits that her mother got that recipe from another restaurant, but doesn't seem to note the irony of then claiming ownership of it herself. Also, Charles admits that she based the idea for her restaurant on another restaurant. Looking at the menu for Charles' restaurant shows that she sells New England Clam Chowder... clearly invented by others. Is she paying up for that intellectual property? Of course not. The law is pretty clear on this one that she has no case -- and that's for a good reason. Imagine if there could be only one pizza shop in all of New York. Or only one oyster bar. That's ridiculous and would harm just about everyone. However, in this age where monopoly rights are bizarrely considered a good thing, it's no surprise that we're seeing a push to go in that direction.

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  1. identicon
    Luci, 28 Jun 2007 @ 12:28pm

    Re: Maybe a case after all

    Actually, having read the article in question, I have to agree that there may very well be a case. This is not an argument over menu, alone. From the referenced article:
    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.
    Without actually seeing a copy of the complaint, itself, it is difficult to ascertain the actual merit of the complaint, however. If this is only on the merit of copying the distinct features of the original store, then it will probably show some success, however small. The most unfortunate thing about all of this, though, is that it will stifle competition if the trend continues. It's hard to argue otherwise.

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