On September 3, US Foods, Inc. (US Foods) filed a federal lawsuit against Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. (Scripps), owner of the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, over Scripps’ use of the title Food Fanatics with a new television series. The complaint alleges trademark infringement and false designation of origin under federal law, and deceptive trade practices under state law.
US Foods is the owner of the federally registered trademark “FOOD FANATICS.” It claims that it uses the mark in connection with a nationwide marketing program regarding a group of specially selected FOOD FANATICS chefs from different regions of the country. The marketing initiative has a “distinct ‘on the road’ approach,” where the FOOD FANATICS chefs provide information and recommendations regarding foods and restaurants in their particular geographic region. US Foods’ trademark registration does not cover a television series. However, the company publicizes its FOOD FANATICS mark and initiative through numerous channels, including videos, websites, blogs, social media accounts, and magazines. The FOOD FANATICS chefs also appear on television and radio shows, at promotional events, and at trade shows to publicize the FOOD FANATICS program.
According to the complaint, representatives from Scripps met with US Foods in December 2012 to discuss a possible partnership between the companies for a reality television show on a Scripps network called Food Fanatics. US Foods claims it walked away from the deal, but Scripps still decided to adopt Food Fanatics or Food Fanatics with Eden Grinshpan as the title of a new television series. The show will feature chefs and other culinary personalities who will be interviewed about food-related topics, and it will allegedly have the same “on the road” motif as US Food’s FOOD FANATICS initiative, since the interviews will be conducted in different cities. US Foods alleges that Scripps’ use of the FOOD FANATICS mark is causing it irreparable harm, especially considering that US Foods is currently in discussions with at least one other television network to create its own Food Fanatics series. US Foods has asked the court for an injunction to bar Scripps’ show and related marketing materials, as well as treble damages, punitive damages, profits, and attorney’s fees and costs.
The lawsuit highlights the risk that television networks can face when discussing potential televisions show concepts and titles with third parties. Much of the case may turn on the alleged discussions at the December 2012 meeting, and what, if any, agreement was reached between the parties regarding the FOOD FANATICS trademark. While plaintiffs’ idea misappropriation claims often fail in the courts, a trademark lawsuit like the one at bar may fair better, particularly where there are claims that the network had actual knowledge of the third-party mark based on its partnership discussions with the third party.