Everyone in New Orleans knows Camellia Grill. The restaurant with the majestic white columns looks somewhat out of place but has been a mainstay at the corner of St. Charles and Carrollton for decades. The place is not known for great food, it is a gastropub at best, but it is known for its flamboyant waitstaff and unique atmosphere. When you walk in, you’re taken back in time to an old-school diner run by anything but typical New Orleans characters. My mother and brother go there every year for his birthday. While in law school at Loyola, I lived around the corner and spent my fair share of late nights (or were they early mornings?) enjoying some greasy breakfast grub. Every local has their own Camellia Grill story.
After Katrina, the restaurant was closed and it was rumored that it would never open again. People were sad and the grill was close to adding itself to the “Ain’t Dere No More” list. Most New Orleanians I know were happy when new ownership licensed the rights to the restaurant and brought it back to it’s Pre-K form. The new owner also opened additional locations in the French Quarter and Destin, Florida. Somewhere along the line though, the new owner decided to slightly modify the iconic pink rose logo.
The original logo, which you can find here on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website, included a green circle around the pink rose. Thew new owner modified the logo to have a green square, which you can see here. No big deal, right? Wrong.
The problem with modifying the logo is that the new owner, Hicham Khodr, did not actually own the logo. He just owned a license and had the rights to use the building and brand name. Michael Shwartz, the original purveyor, retained ownership as the licensor. Under the terms of the licensing agreement, Khodr agreed to not “change any aspect of the Marks in color, design or presentation, without the prior written consent of the Licensor.” This is key, because Shwartz never provided written consent, and under the contract, exercised his right to terminate the lease. Litigation ensued.
Shwartz won on summary judgment and Khodr appealed. The Louisiana Court of Appeal, Fourth Circuit, ruled in Shwartz’s favor. Essentially, the court found that the language of the contract was straightforward. Khodr raised all sorts of arguments, but in the end, the court looked at the language of the contract just as it was written. It’s hard to get around that. Khodr says that he’ll appeal to the Supreme Court, but I don’t see that having much luck. It’s simply a contract.
Also, it appears that Camellia Grill actually has a trademark on the design of the front of the building itself and according to Shwartz’s attorney, the building will have to be completely remodeled. So Camellia Grill won’t be gone, Shwartz could open that up in a new location, but the building at St. Charles and Carrollton won’t be its home and may look completely different.
Obviously, there’s more to this story than what’s available in the press and in the appellate court’s decision. It’s a shame that this dispute may shut down a New Orleans institution.
What is your favorite memory of Camellia Grill?read more
This month’s post on Silicon Bayou News discusses the potential trademark dispute involving a Florida businessman and Florida Gulf Coast University. The school advanced to the Sweet 16 Round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and created a frenzy around the phrase “Dunk City.” Now, a businessman in the area is trying to claim that phrase via a trademark filing.
Head on over to Silicon Bayou to read more.read more
Wine distributor David Martin filed a temporary restraining order against Wines Unlimited, Inc. in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, Louisiana, on September 21, 2012 because of a name conflict between his business and the defendant.
Martin claims that he has owned and operated “Wines Unlimited” in Louisiana since 1950. He alleges trade name infringement, trade name dilution, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and unjust enrichment. The defendant appears to have been operating since 1997.
This case will be interesting, because Martin didn’t register his trade name with the Secretary of State until August 24, 2012. He filed for the trademark with the Patent and Trademark Office on the same day. The defendant is based on Pennsylvania and filed a similar trademark on September 28, 2012.
Regardless of how this case turns out, the lesson small business owners can learn is that careful planning can prevent this type of dispute. Both companies should have invested in their intellectual property protections decades ago, when they started their companies, to ensure that they owned the rights in their names. A careful search by Wines Unlimited back in 1997 when they started their business may have discovered this Louisiana distributor. It would have been much easier (and cheaper) to change their name then.read more
My newest post on Silicon Bayou News discuss what to do when you have an idea that you want to discuss with someone, but want to protect that idea and keep it for yourself. The answer may surprise you.read more
One of the requirements of a federal trademark application is that you must actually be selling the product using the mark across state lines. In legalese, this is interstate commerce and gives the federal government, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, jurisdiction to register your trademark. This presents a problem to business owners who are doing business in only one state but plan on expanding to other states.read more