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If you are a restaurant owner or managing a popular restaurant chain, then read on. Intellectual property protection for restaurants and food chains does not start and end with registering your restaurant’s trademark. Protecting and registering intellectual property can increase the valuation of the company not just in the accounting books, but increases brand stability and brand perception in long run. In case, you are planning for an IPO or want to raise money from venture capitals, having registered IPs can be helpful to draw the attention of potential investors that you are really serious about your business.

Protecting Brand Identity

One of the primary IP protections that a restaurant can avail of is registering its trade name and logo as a trademark. In most cases the logo or the name of the restaurant is determined by a public relation or marketing agency taking into consideration the customer considerations and perceptions. However, it is advisable to take advice from a lawyer, who can tell you about existing registered trademarks or potential stability of the mark as a good trademark. Many restaurant owners might be tempted to name their restaurant after their surname or anyone in the family, but a trademark like “Khosla’s” or “Tanisha’s” is a very weak and might be hard to contest in case of use by another restaurant. A trademark should ideally be fanciful (madeup names  like “bluO”) or arbitrary (unrelated with the service or goods, for example “Vapour”, “Route 04”, “The Flying Saucer Cafe” for restaurants or cafes). Suggestive names for restaurants or having names in foreign languages or names of towns of foreign places (though not the major cities like Paris, Amsterdam, London, etc) in combination with other words can also be a safe choice like “Zerzura” (a mythical city or oasis in Egypt).

Interior decors

You must have spent a lot on getting the catchy and uber cool look of your restaurant chains, but someone else opens a store in the same locality copying the minute details of your restaurant. What are your options? Do you know you can even protect your restaurant chain’s unique interior decor? The store design can consist of unique colour combinations, custom furniture and other store decors, which can be helpful for advertisement and creating customer recognition and association with the brand. Store designs can be protected as trade dress under certain circumstances like longer use, consistency and uniqueness. Trade dress protection initially was granted to protect the “look and feel” of packaging of a product. However, the Courts have expanded the meaning of trade dress and applied “look and feel” test to protect store and restaurant interior decors and looks. For example, Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) outlets have a very unique colour combination and similar looking furniture in all the stores, which can be easily identified and distinguished even without the logo and name CCD written anywhere. Such distinguished interior setup and formats may be protected as trade dress.

Websites

In the current world, having a website for any organisation is a must. Domain names are considered to be trademark, and you can file a trademark infringement suit against anyone who uses your restaurant’s name as a domain name for fraudulent purpose. It is suggested that you must book your domain name even before launching your restaurant.

The design, images and illustration used in a website are protected under copyright laws. There is no specific need to apply for copyright of the website or to give a public notice at the bottom of the website stating “All rights Reserved”. However, you can register the website, which might be helpful for establishing ownership in case of an infringement suit. If you are getting your website designed by a freelancer or any other agency, it is advised that the agreement must contain a copyright assignment clause granting you the copyright of the website created.

Recipes and Cookbook

Do you know what spices go in the KFC’s chicken? No one knows about it in public, because KFC have maintained secrecy over their recipe for years. If you have a proprietary recipe which is known only to you, it is advisable that you make your employees sign a non-disclosure and non-compete agreement. Moreover, you should monitor that the recipe is known only to a selected few person in the restaurant. In case someone is leaving the job, consider conducting an exit interview to remind the person of his obligations on secrecy.

Though you cannot prevent another restaurant from using the recipe you wrote down in your cookbook, but what you can prevent is from selling the cookbook in his own name. Recipes per se might not be protected as a copyright as most of the recipes might be just be list of ingredients. However, when the recipes are written in an explanatory manner along with illustrations and photos copying the same can be violation of copyright. Many celebrity chefs have their signature dish and might have a unique way of preparing things. Encouraging celebrity chefs to write cookbooks during the work hour and having an explicit IP assignment clause in the employment agreement can earn you extra income from the royalties of selling the cookbooks.

Menus

Apart from registering the restaurant’s name, you can register the name of your signature dishes which might have a distinct name from the generic name of the dish. For example, KFC and McDonalds uses the trademark sign “TM” with the names of its menu items, which are though not registered, it gives a signal to the public or probable violators that these are business names and should not be used.

You can protect the design of the menu, including photos and other illustrations and arrangement of food items made in a particular manner as copyright. However, in case of enforcement of copyright, the courts might test the originality of the menu. To make the menu unique apart from usage of unique illustrations, images and menu items, one must consider using descriptive menus, which not only increases the originality but rather carefully drafted descriptive menus can have a positive psychological affect on the guests.

Patent and design protection

While smaller restaurant might not have anything to protect as patent or design. However, bigger restaurant chains like KFC, McDonalds and Subway have lot of patents over kitchen equipments which are used in their day to day activities. If you are developing custom equipment, consider getting a patent or design protection for that equipment.

Merchandising

Once a brand has been established, you might consider using the brand name for merchandising, which can act as a separate source of revenue. Cafe chains like Starbucks and Cafe Coffee Day have their own merchandise like cups and mugs. If you are planning to give merchandising rights to a third party, take advice from lawyers on ways to protect your IP in the best way.

 

(Image courtesy: Joe Penniston)

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