23 August 2018Trademarks

BBC chef hits out at former restaurant over name

A chef on the BBC’s TV programme “Great British Menu” has called out his former self-titled restaurant over the trademarking of his name and the sale of licences to use his signature recipes.

In April this year, James Cochran left James Cochran EC3, a restaurant based in London, before announcing the opening of new restaurant 1251, also in the city.

Rayuela, the owners of James Cochran EC3, have created a test website  offering three recipe plans—which include scotch egg, crispy cauliflower, and jerk chicken—for up £50 ($64) per week. The plan will grant access to the recipes and licences to use the ‘James Cochran’ registered trademark for the duration of the contract.

Three individuals are listed as owners of the trademark ‘James Cochran’, which covers the provision of food and drink, entertainment and condiments. At the time of registration, the individualsDavid Haughie, Swarnamali Galmongodage and Valentin Bortnikwere affiliated with Rayuela.

“Cochran was fully aware of the successful completion of trademarking early in 2018 and did not register any objection in the two-month statutory objection period … and continued in his role throughout,” said Rayuela.

The company added that Cochran's only offer to acquire the trademark was for a sum less than it cost to complete the trademarking process.

Andy King, partner at Mewburn Ellis, believes the dispute is further muddied by the fact that the two UK trademark registrations that appear to be at issue, one for the name and the other for what appears to be a stylised depiction of Cochran’s face, are jointly owned by the three individuals rather than the company.

According to Rayeula's spokesperson, the face trademark is not being used for the James Cochran brand.

“Rayuela’s apparent claim to own the trademarks would not therefore strictly seem to be true,” said King.

In its Twitter biography, the restaurant says that “James’s food takes influence from his Scottish/Caribbean heritage”.

The dispute came to light on Sunday, August 19, when Cochran responded to the test recipe plans on Twitter.

“Who is going to pay £25 a week just to add my name in front of the recipe?? I will give you the recipes for free if you’re that low!!,” he tweeted.

Fellow chefs and food critics defended Cochran.

Chef Ellis Barrie claimed that the situation was “mad” and that Cochran’s former employer was “using and abusing his name”.

Rayuela responded to Barrie, requesting that the chef refrains from giving advice if “you do not know the ins and outs of the situation”.

The restaurant added: “It’s rarely black and white. Check out UK Patent Act 1977 which states that owner of all IP (including trademarks) will be the employer. @cochran_ja was a paid employee, not an owner. End of story.”

In subsequent tweets, the owners explained that the trademark was filed “long before” Cochran handed in his notice, in December 2017.

“We offered him to re-pay this money and take ownership of the brand we invested so heavily into. His words were ‘keep it’. Naive to assume that we won’t be looking to monetise it,” said another tweet.

King noted that disputes over the ownership of trademarks are a recurring theme, particularly where celebrities are involved.

For example,  WIPR  recently investigated the tussle between tennis champion Roger Federer and Nike over the ownership of his initials. The case highlights that there are a few significant considerations for brands when signing a contract with a sportsperson.

King concluded that the issues in the Cochran case underline the necessity of having a clear agreement in place that explicitly covers the position on the ownership of rights and what happens if a situation such as this occurs.

In a press statement, Rayuela said that it would be open to negotiating an agreement where Cochran acquires the trademark, but that it won't agree a deal on “any grounds other than solid business rationale”.

“The fact that James chose to draw attention to a test website that we have neither launched nor promoted entirely refutes that we are experiencing any commercial gain from our association with him,” said the statement.

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