Heston Blumenthal’s lawyers dig knife into local Melbourne café in name stoush

A suburban Melbourne Café co-owner didn’t know what to make of an email from Heston Blumenthal’s Sydney-based lawyers when they demanded her business change its name within seven days.

The Oakleigh South-based café was called The Fat Duck, the same name as the celebrity chef’s three-Michelin-star restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, UK.  

Co-owner of the Oakleigh South venue Katie Norris told SmartCompany that her first reaction to the October 21 email was to “laugh” in surprise.

“I got a little star struck for a moment,” she says. “It was a long letter with a lot of name dropping in it.”

Norris explains the “name dropping” was an extensive list of Blumenthal’s credentials, including his TV appearances, cook books and restaurants.

She says the email said her business needed to change its name within seven days, as the name The Fat Duck was trademarked by Blumenthal.

Norris and her business partner sent the letter to their lawyer, who decided there was no point in fighting the case. Their lawyer felt that the cost of fighting for the name would have been beyond what the small business could invest.

However, Norris’s lawyer did push back to a degree, and told Blumenthal’s lawyers the business would need more time to facilitate the change, including finding a new name, re-doing its signage and replacing all marketing collateral.

She was not sure of the exact price of the change over, but says it is adding up to thousands of dollars “by a few”.

Norris says when she originally researched the name before launching the 40-seat café around two years ago, The Fat Duck was available in Australia, and she was not aware that she should have also searched international trademarks.

“I know people trademark big names like Coca Cola…but I didn’t realise people register a single establishment.

“How many searches do you have to do?” she says.

SmartCompany contacted The Fat Duck’s publicity representative seeking comment from Blumenthal, but no response was issued prior to publication.

Blumenthal told the Herald Sun yesterday that the naming issue stems from the fact The Fat Duck “is now a global name, an international name, it’s potentially a difficult thing”.

“Somebody could operate under the name The Fat Duck and do whatever, whether it’s coffee, tea, ice cream, and if something goes wrong, then you don’t have any control over it,” he told the newspaper.

Norris’s attitude is positive despite the disappointment, which she puts down to the fact her business could afford to pay for the changeover without “scraping the pennies”.

She says if a small business was in a more financially challenged position, a name change could ruin them.

“I don’t want to tell people not to fight, but you have to know what you are capable of as a business.

“Your pride can get in the way, and you will throw away money.”

Her biggest concern was ensuring her local clientele come back in, as she is worried they will think it is under new ownership.

The café will now be called The Loose Goose.

It is not the first time Blumenthal’s lawyers have fought for the name in Australia. In 2011 they approached a Sydney restaurant that opened with the name The Fat Duck, which later changed to The Naked Duck.

Patent attorney John Carroll of Callinans recently told SmartCompany that when establishing a new business, the owner should check the trademark registrations and applications for trademarks.

“Check ASIC for records of companies and business names…but remember that the existence of a name does not create the right to own it, it is about how it is used,” he said.

Carroll said that if an international company comes into your jurisdiction with the same name, “you will need at least some reputation (to fight it)”.

He advised that if a company does come into your area, and wants you to change your name, you can seek compensation for the act of goodwill in changing it.

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