Thursday, January 31, 2008

Use of Former Chef’s Name Could Be False Advertising; Breach of Publicity, Privacy Rights

This posting was written by William Zale, Editor of CCH Advertising Law Guide.

A hotel chain’s continued use of a renowned chef’s name, after he had resigned, to promote wedding packages at a Philadelphia hotel could constitute Lanham Act false advertising and unauthorized use of a name under a Pennsylvania statute, as well as common law misappropriation of publicity and invasion of privacy, the federal district court in Philadelphia has ruled.

Statements “In Commerce”

The hotel’s representations were held to be “in commerce” within the meaning of the Lanham Act. It was reasonable to infer that customers from the greater Philadelphia area—including New Jersey and Delaware—would plan a wedding at a prominent hotel in Philadelphia, especially given the alleged extent of the chef’s renown.

Commercial Value of Name

The chef (Carl Lewis) sufficiently alleged that his name had secondary meaning, for purposes of false advertising under the Lanham Act, and commercial value, for purposes of the right of publicity claims. Lewis alleged that he was a well-known chef, caterer, and event planner in the Philadelphia area, having cultivated an excellent reputation in the food and beverage and event planning industries since the early 1980’s.

He alleged that the hotel chain (Marriott International, Inc.) generated over $2 million in revenue from his wedding packages in 1999, his first year as executive chef, and over $4 million in 2005, the year he left the hotel.

Based on the significant revenue generated by the chef’s wedding packages, it was reasonable to infer that the chef’s personal marketing was successful with the public, thus creating an association between his name and event planning and catering, the court concluded.

The court denied the hotel chain’s motion to dismiss the chef’s four claims (Lanham Act false advertising, unauthorized use the chef’s name under Pennsylvania statute, misappropriation of the right of publicity, and invasion of privacy).

The December 19, 2008 decision is Lewis v. Marriott International, Inc., CCH Advertising Law Guide ¶62,815.

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