Jerry Seinfeld’s TV show may be funny – at least to some folks – but his wife’s cookbook was serious business. (Missy Chase Lapine, The Sneaky Chef, Inc. v. Jessica Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld, Harpercollins Publishers, Inc. and Departure Productions, Inc.)
Lapine is the author of The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals. Four months after this blockbuster hit the bookstore shelves, Mrs. Seinfeld’s book, Deceptively Delicious Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food, appeared. As may be discerned from the titles of these two chef d’oevres, they both deal with underhanded schemes designed to facilitate so-called “loving parents” foisting disgustingly processed VEGETABLES on their innocent, unsuspecting offspring.
Nevertheless, Lapine sued Seinfeld for copyright and trademark infringement, alleging, inter alia, that “the two works are substantially similar in their unique and innovative expression of the idea [of sneaking vegetables into children’s food] by means of a cookbook containing comprehensive instructions for making and storing a variety of vegetable purees in advance, and then using the purees in specially created recipes for children’s favorite foods.” Yuck!!
The Court granted summary judgment of noninfringement to the defendants. “Stockpiling vegetable purees for covert use in children’s food is an idea which cannot be copyrighted” – thank goodness for that! These were “unprotectable elements that follow naturally from [the] work’s theme rather than from [the] author’s creativity.”
As to the allegations of trademark infringement, “defendants’ use of the famous ‘Seinfeld’ name reduces any likelihood of confusion regarding the marks” (translation: it helps a bunch if your husband is Jerry Seinfeld). No trademark infringement.
THE LESSONS TO BE LEARNED: (1) You can’t copyright an IDEA; and (2) it never hurts to have a famous comedian for a husband.
Perhaps, but it's also possible that Lapine only filed suit in the first place BECAUSE of Seinfeld's famous husband, figuring she had a "deep-pockets" defendant. If it had been Jane Schmoe who'd published the book, Lapine might not have bothered suing. Fame has its pros and cons.