Alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition, Vienna Beef Ltd. has sued a descendant of one of its founders and the competing hot dog company he established in 1986. Vienna Beef Ltd. v. Red Hot Chicago, Inc., No. 11-03825 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill., filed June 6, 2011). When Scott Ladany, whose grandfather started Vienna Beef, left that company in 1983, he purportedly signed a severance agreement promising not to share Vienna’s recipes and acknowledging their status as trade secrets.

According to the complaint, Ladany made “few inroads into Vienna’s dominance in the marketplace” for the next 25 years and then launched a marketing campaign on behalf of Red Hot, referring to the family history of making “Chicago’s finest hot dogs for 118 years.” He also allegedly referred to “a tradition that’s been handed down through four generations of our family.”  

The plaintiff contends, “The only way that he can claim that he has been making the finest hot dogs for 118 years is to claim some right to make commercial use of the history and legacy of Vienna.” Alleging that this might lead consumers to believe Red Hot is either affiliated with or a continuation of Vienna Beef, the plaintiff seeks the destruction of documents containing its recipes, a notice on Red Hot’s Website clarifying that the companies are not affiliated, revenue and profits attributable to Red Hot’s use of Vienna Beef’s recipes or trademarks, attorney’s fees, and exemplary damages. See Law360, June 6, 2011.