On the fringes of copyright

The New York Times has an article about a chef who has tried to sue a competitor for infringement of intellectual property.

The suit…charges that Edâ??s Lobster Bar copies â??each and every elementâ?? of Pearl Oyster Bar, including the white marble bar, the gray paint on the wainscoting, the chairs and bar stools with their wheat-straw backs, the packets of oyster crackers placed at each table setting and the dressing on the Caesar salad.

There has been a growth in restaurants and chefs attempting to use of intellectual property arguments (copyright trademarks, patents and trade dress) to protect their businesses. As far as I have seen they have had little success.

Copying someone else’s bar or restaurant idea or menu may be a bit tacky and sad but this cannot be used to create intellectual property rights in these areas. If we were to begin protecting restaurants in this way then why not all parts of the service industry? Why stop there when we could begin using intellectual property to prevent our peers from dressing or behaving in the same way as we do?

Restaurants, food manufacturers, wine makers etc etc regularly explore, reverse engineer and learn from their competitors. There is no intellectual property limiting their ability to conduct these activities. Despite this lack of property protection there seems to be no limit to the amounts of human ingenuity and creativeness in relation to food and drink.

Maybe intellectual property should consider limiting the scope of protection and return to free market systems as opposed to creating false monopolies.

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