California food manufacturer sued for allegedly infringing on Barefoot Contessa brand

Why does a company have trademarks and branding? To build consumer confidence and prevent the company's products from being confused with other companies' products. These are the basic purposes of trademarks and servicemarks, the registration of which we discussed in a recent post.

The confusion of consumer products is at issue in a licensing and branding dispute between Ina Garten -- you may know her as the Barefoot Contessa from the Food Network -- and the California company OFI Foods. 

Last year OFI bought Contessa Premium Foods (CPF), which was a third-party manufacturer that made Garten's line of Barefoot Contessa frozen dinners. According to her company's press release, Garten didn't own any part of CPF, but her lawsuit claims that OFI, after buying CPF, infringed on her intellectual property by continuing to make products that were virtually the same as Garten's and branded like Garten's.

The OFI brand is called "Contessa Chef Inspired," and Garten's brand is called "Barefoot Contessa." Both brands have very similar packaging, and Garten's lawsuit claims that most of OFI's frozen dinners were even made "using the same recipes as the dinners previously manufactured under the terminated license."

The suit is referring to the license previously held by CPF. OFI reportedly sought licensing rights but was unable to purchase them after being turned down for not having frozen-food business experience outside of seafood.

An article in the Consumerist has side-by-side images to show the similarity between the brands.

Intellectual property infringement can be extremely costly for a business. The attorneys of Shulman, Hodges & Bastian LLP serve business clients throughout California in all matters of trademark and patent infringement.

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