Sunday, July 8, 2007

Thinking more about restaurants and intellectual property #1

Does a restaurant need trademarks? Do most businesses need trademarks?

The New York Times' coverage of the Pearl Oyster Bar litigation got me thinking about how its points would apply here. I made some comments within the original post and others have occurred to me since then.

First, I want to be clear that I am not addressing all restaurants. Franchise restaurants have franchisors eager to protect their trademarks and trade secrets. Nor am I addressing those restaurateurs who do want to expend the money to protect their intellectual property. I specifically exclude them on the assumption that they have made the decision that any infringement has not or will not cost them any money. A civil suit requires damages and that will be measured in dollars. No damages means no lawsuit.

I remain convinced that trademarks are the most cost effective intellectual property for any small business. The name must be unique and used in connection with the business. This could include the business' name or items on the menu or both. Trademarking the business' name provides protection against the competitor with the same or a similar name moving into the same area. While bringing menu items under a trademark provides protection from a competitor using your business' success with a menu item for their own purposes. You can see the government's fees for trademarking here.

You have the ultimate decision as to trademark or not. Remember enforcement costs do exist. I suggest thinking of trademarks as a form of insurance. Like all insurance, you need to think about what will be your costs if you do not have the insurance.

4/26/08 update: Follow Up on "Restaurants and intellectual property" about settlement of this case.