Wolfgang Puck Blasts Trademark for ‘The Kitchen’

CHICAGO (CN) – Trademark protection for the phrase “the kitchen” is absurd, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s company says in a lawsuit against the fine dining restaurant chain The Kitchen, owned by billionaire Elon Musk’s brother.

Wolfgang Puck Worldwide filed a preemptive suit in Chicago federal court on Friday seeking to protect its right to use the names “The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck” and “The Kitchen Counter by Wolfgang Puck” against any potential infringement accusations by The Kitchen Café restaurant chain.

The Kitchen Café, or TKC, runs a chain of fine dining restaurants known for a commitment to local and seasonal ingredients. It is owned by Kimbal Musk, brother of Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. Outside of Colorado, The Kitchen has restaurants in Chicago and Memphis.

Wolfgang Puck’s synonymous restaurant franchise, opened last year, has locations in Grand Rapids, Washington Dulles International Airport and Los Angeles.

Recently, The Kitchen sued Wolfgang Puck Licensing in Colorado federal court, claiming a protected right to the phrase “the kitchen” as applied to restaurants. It also owns the marks “The Kitchen Upstairs” and “The Kitchen Next Door.”

But Wolfgang Puck asked the court to cancel these trademarks, claiming “the phrase ‘the kitchen’ is fundamentally incapable of protection as a stand-alone trademark or service mark or as an element of a trademark or service mark because it is generic, or, at best, merely descriptive of such services, and that TKC’s assertion is legally untenable and factually absurd.”

Wolfgang Puck Worldwide filed the action in Chicago because it believes The Kitchen’s Colorado action will be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction.

“TKC’s effort to claim exclusive rights in ‘The Kitchen’ in the Chicago metropolitan area specifically is particularly egregious,” according to the complaint.

The complaint includes pictures of four other restaurants in Chicago that use the word “kitchen” in their name, including Lyfe Kitchen, One North Kitchen & Bar, Travelle Kitchen + Bar, and Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen.

That list is by no means intended to be comprehensive. “There are hundreds of other restaurants which use ‘kitchen’ in their names in combination with other terms,” Wolfgang Puck claims.

The complaint continues, “TKC’s attempts to establish a nationwide monopoly in the term ‘The Kitchen’ and assert it against other businesses, such as WPL, Worldwide, and Express, creates a chilling effect on restaurants. It casts doubt whether they can continue to use the generic, highly descriptive or merely descriptive term to convey to patrons the necessary information about the nature of their restaurant services.”

Musk told Eater Magazine two weeks ago that he tried to contact Puck to talk about the possible confusion created by his use of the “kitchen” name before resorting to litigation, but Puck never returned his calls.

“To pursue this name and prey on a still-young and up and coming group like ours is one of the saddest things I have ever seen as a businessman,” Musk explained.

He said it’s hard to explain why Puck would refuse to speak with him when Puck knows him and his family personally.

The Kitchen did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment on the Chicago lawsuit.

Wolfgang Puck is represented by Philip A. Jones with Barnes & Thornburg in Chicago.