In a $20 million lawsuit, Michael Chow alleged that his former pupil, defendant Philippe Chow, stole his restaurant's name - one of the most common family names in China - as well as its recipes and even its ambiance. The case has been described by described by some as a classic case of teacher versus student.
Philippe Chow counter-sued for defamation, stating that, not only did he become a high-level chef in his 25 years at Mr. Chow, but that he, along with mentor Sik Chung Lam, helped create the restaurant's menu.
An 11-person Miami jury granted Philippe Chow an impressive victory of 15 out of 16 wins, clearing the fast growing Chinese restaurant brand on all counts of trademark infringement, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and misappropriation of trade secrets. Philippe Chow was cleared on 16 out of 16 counts in California and Florida and 14 out of 16 counts in New York.
To me, the most interesting part of the litigation was the allegation that Philippe Chow 'stole' Mr. Chow's recipes, because one of the questions I get asked often by clients and potential clients is whether they can protect their recipes.
The answer is yes, you can absolutely protect the value of your recipes. Copyright protection is available for your written description of the way the ingredients are assembled and prepared in order to create the food. The ingredient list itself is not copyrightable, but the manner and order in which the ingredients are assembled, and possibly even the plating presentation of the food is in fact protected.
Another aspect of your food which can be protected is the name you give to your dish or food. You may be able to trademark the name of your dish, which could be important if you market or sell the food using its name. The trademark process is a little bit more complicated than the copyright process, but a good restaurant lawyer should be able to handle both tasks efficiently.
If you would like more information about how you can copyright your recipe or trademark the name of your dish or food item, please call or email me.