Restaurant Copying

The New York Times recently ran a fascinating article about the globalization of restaurants–in particular, the spread of New York-based restaurant and chef brands (such as Mario Batali) to Asia and other emerging economies. The article underscores the far greater value of a brand in a global marketplace. The photo above is of Batali’s new Hong Kong Lupa restaurant, which looks absolutely nothing like the original on Thompson Street (pictured below left).

At the same time, it points out how IP law is a local phenomenon. Nothing stops a savvy entrepreneur in a foreign locale from copying the menu, look, or even name of a well-known New York establishment. As the Times points out:

 Tom Colicchio, whose holdings in the United States include two Craftsteaks, was surprised a few years ago to find out that Mr. Sekhri had named his own Hong Kong restaurant Craftsteak.

“The guy never called me,” he said of Mr. Sekhri. “I never had a conversation with him.”

Mr. Sekhri denies knowing about Mr. Colicchio’s restaurants when he chose the name. Their restaurants “are different,” he said, adding that “we are supported by the trademark and intellectual property laws in Hong Kong. If you register the name, you own that brand, under Hong Kong law.”

Mr. Colicchio said, “We called our trademark people, and they said we’d spend a lot of money but we weren’t going to get anywhere.”

Yet surprisingly, Mr. Colicchio was conciliatory. Mr. Sekhri is “by all accounts good at what he does,” he said. “I’m not bitter, and I wouldn’t be against working with him” on a future project.

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