Francis Ford Coppola’s Questionable Trademark v. Tiny Italian Restaurant
Francis Ford Coppola owns several restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area where service is made “a tavola,” meaning that several dishes are brought to the table all at once in a very traditional spirit. Now Coppola is suing a Marin County, California restaurant by the name of Tavola Italian Restaurant over the use of the word “tavola,” which, in Italian, means “table.” His lawyers claim that the small restaurant several miles away from Coppola’s is infringing on the movie director’s rights.
According to this, “a tavola!” in Italian means “dinner’s ready” or “come and eat.” “Tavola” means “table.” It is unclear which word or set of words – “tavola” or “a tavola” – is the basis for Coppola’s trademark. The websites of Coppola’s restaurant sell a service “a tavola,” where customers do not order from a menu but where waiters bring diverse dishes to the table. Coppola’s complaint, however, states that the family has a trademark over the use, in their restaurant business, of “tavola,” which, let’s not forget, means “table” and is used extensively in the food business.
Now, filing a trademark over “tavola” in the restaurant business is bold. Having obtained a trademark over such a generic, descriptive word is aberrant. A trademark infringement lawsuit over the use of “table” in Italian, for an Italian restaurant is as nonsensical as it can get, but is only the foreseeable result of granting a trademark over such a word in the business of providing food to a table of customers. In the words of Coppola’s Chief Executive:
The Francis Ford Coppola Winery has created a unique dining experience which has been named “A Tavola”. Customers travel far and wide to dine at the restaurant located at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, for A Tavola. At these occasions, there is no menu, only an opportunity to be part of an interactive and entertaining experience. We knew of no other A Tavola restaurant, so it was natural that we took steps to protect the name by obtaining a federal trademark registration in the United States Patent and Trademark Office. When we learned that a neighboring restaurant had subsequently applied for a “TAVOLA” trademark registration for a restaurant, we became concerned.
Coppola’s claim did spark many articles and comments, of which many are outraged that the Coppola family could sue a tiny restaurant over the use of such a generic term, especially in the restaurant business. Well, Coppola’s claim is not too good for his public image, but Coppola’s complaint is also inconsistent. Coppola’s complaint states that customers might be at risk of confusing Tavola Italian Restaurant with the movie director’s restaurants in San Francisco and Sonoma County. Indeed, Coppola is a movie director. Now the trademark on “a tavola” services is unrelated to Coppola – the movie director. His trademark relates to a distinguishable way of serving food, not to his name. Where “a tavola” refers to a traditional Italian way of offering food to guests or customers, thus calling into question the basis for a trademark, Coppola’s capacity as a former movie director does not matter and should by no means be brought up. If Coppola had a trademark on his name, then any restaurant names making a reference to Coppola could be infringing on the movie director’s trademark. This is not the case here.