A trademark dispute is pitting star chef Wolfgang Puck against restaurateur Kimbal Musk, brother of Tesla Motors Inc.’s Elon Musk. At issue are just two words: “the kitchen.”

Kimbal Musk filed a notice with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office earlier this month arguing that Puck’s trademarks for two new eateries should not be approved. That’s because they include “the kitchen.” Musk’s company said they are too similar to trademarks for his restaurants that include the same term.

“Wolfgang Puck’s use of the identical ‘The Kitchen’ mark is certain to cause – and indeed already has caused – confusion in the marketplace,” Musk’s company said in the notice. Musk opened The Kitchen in Boulder, Colo., in 2004, which led to other restaurants and a nonprofit. His company now holds trademarks for the names “The Kitchen Next Door,” “The Kitchen Upstairs” and “The Kitchen Community Through Food.”

Puck is applying for trademarks for his new eateries The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck and The Kitchen Counter by Wolfgang Puck, which launched in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Wolfgang Puck Group, with corporate offices in Beverly Hills, said it is disappointed at Musk’s opposition to its trademarks.

“They include the generic term ‘kitchen,’ which is in widespread use by numerous other restaurants around the country,” the company said in a statement.

Indeed, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Register lists 7,000 applications and registrations with the term “the kitchen,” suggesting the agency isn’t restricting that phrase, said Jane Shay Wald, chair of the trademark practice at Century City law firm Irell & Manella.

For Musk to succeed, he would have to show a “likelihood of confusion” among the trademarks, she said. That can only be asserted with proof that his company is the single source of goods or services in connection with “the kitchen” – a tough battle in the dining business.  

“You’ve got trouble protecting it because you cannot have a lock on a term that’s descriptive of the service,” said Wald.

Her advice to businesses? Avoid generic words when picking a name.

Musk is also claiming that Puck took the name after a lunch at Beverly Hills restaurant Spago in 2012 at which they discussed Musk’s restaurants. Wolfgang Puck Group responded that Musk did have a Spago reservation at that time, but that its trademark choices had no connection with Musk or a discussion between the restaurateurs.  

“Mr. Puck greeted him and took a photograph with him, as Mr. Puck does with many guests who dine at his establishments,” it said.

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