Wednesday, June 27, 2007

IP on the Menu

The NY Times reports a chef suing her former sous-chef for copying her restaurant.

As usual, it's tough to get a clear sense of the merit of the suit from reading a news account. It's clear that the "trade dress" of a restaurant -- its total image and overall appearance, including things like the decor and the menu -- can be protected intellectual property. On the other hand, you can't own the exclusive right to serve lobster rolls and fried clams.

IP law is always a delicate balance between protecting good competition -- the kind of competition that makes America great and promotes low prices and good products for consumers -- while stifling bad competition -- the kind where someone wrongfully steals someone else's protectible ideas. Judging from the article, the plaintiff is pushing the envelope here. The defendant may have copied too much, but one gets the sense that the plaintiff just doesn't like competition. If she's discovered that New Yorkers enjoy a New England seafood-style restaurant, that's great, but others are entitled to compete in that market.

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