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Famous Dave's: Maslon Defends Against Copyright infringement and Breach of Contract Action

When Famous Dave Anderson set out to create the quintessential American barbeque restaurant experience, he literally embarked upon a cross-country journey. Visiting hole-in-the-wall establishments and roadside barbeques all across America, Famous Dave sought to discover and then combine elements that would best exemplify barbeque as a distinctly American food experience. He brought those elements to bear in his creative vision for his restaurants. When he opened the flagship restaurant in Minneapolis’ Linden Hills neighborhood, he hired a sign painter to put his vision into physical form on the walls and in the décor. Famous Dave hand drew his distinctive barbeque flames, his iconic Wilbur the pig and many other elements that combined to make his restaurant the epitome of American barbeque.

A few years and several restaurants later, Famous Dave and the painter had a falling out. Claiming copyright in the distinctive features and elements that Dave Anderson had created, the painter threatened to sue Famous Dave’s for copyright infringement. Because Dave Anderson is a businessman who cares deeply for his relationship with his friends, he sat down with his former friend and together they crafted an agreement—without lawyers—that would govern their relationship in the years to come.

In the years that followed their initial dispute, the painter, free to pursue his own dreams, opened and then closed a restaurant that incorporated variants of design elements found in Famous Dave’s barbeque restaurants. Occasionally, Famous Dave would hire the painter to paint signs and various other elements in new restaurant openings for Famous Dave’s; but when his restaurant failed and Famous Dave’s went public (resulting in the hiring of advertising and graphics agencies), the painter sued Famous Dave’s, again alleging copyright infringement and breach of the parties’ prior settlement agreement. Because the lawsuit threatened the very look and feel of Famous Dave’s restaurants all over the country, the company hired Maslon to defend it and secure the distinctive look and feel of its restaurants.

Led by trial lawyer and partner David Schultz, a team of Maslon lawyers and paralegals set out to defend the company’s icons. The Maslon team included lawyers Emily Rome, and Keiko Sugisaka, and paralegal Diane Skrivseth. The Maslon team devised a targeted discovery plan, executed that strategy, and won summary judgment before the Federal District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota. Today Famous Dave’s restaurants maintain their distinctive look and feel of the quintessential American barbeque restaurant.

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