'Law Suit! Law Suit!' Little Caesar dishes out a pie in the eye for franchisee

The Daily Record Newswire

That's not amore when it comes to pizza, there's only one Little Caesar. Or so a Worcester, Massachusetts pizzeria is being told in no uncertain terms.

According to a contempt motion filed in U.S. District court on Oct. 21, the Michigan-based Little Caesar chain wants the owner of a Worcester pizza parlor to serve jail time for calling itself Caesar's Pizza.

Sayed El-Bayeh, the owner of the Worcester eatery, at one time operated a Little Caesar franchise. Sometime after the chain terminated its arrangement with him, El-Bayeh changed the name of his restaurant to Caesar's Pizza.

But that didn't sit well with Little Caesar Enterprises. Last January, the company filed a lawsuit in Michigan accusing El-Bayeh of continuing to operate with its old Little Caesar signs and trademarked catchphrases, which include ''Little Caesar,'' ''Pizza! Pizza!'' ''Crazy Bread,'' ''Crazy Sauce'' and ''HOT-N-READY.''

''[T]the public will incorrectly believe that the defendants are still affiliated with Little Caesar,'' Irwin Alterman, the corporation's Michigan lawyer, wrote in his complaint.

He added that the trademark infringement was especially detrimental to his company because it planned to open a new Little Caesar franchise near El-Bayeh's restaurant.

According to court documents, El-Bayeh never responded to the suit. In May, a Michigan judge ordered his restaurant to stop using trademarked phrases and signs associated with Little Caesar.

While the judge did not explicitly say that the name Caesar's Pizza infringed on the Little Caesar trademark, he ordered El-Bayeh to stop using the moniker Little Caesar and any other trademarked phrases in relation to his restaurant.

Meanwhile, Little Caesar continued to keep an eye on the Worcester business. It tracked its advertisements in local Worcester newspapers and photographed its storefront, determining that the restaurant was still using the term HOT-N-READY and continuing to call itself Caesar's Pizza, despite the injunction.

So Little Caesar contacted Worcester attorney Burton Chandler, who filed a motion for contempt in U.S. District Court.

''[T]hey are still using 'Caesars pizza!' which is confusingly similar to the proprietary mark 'Little Caesar,''' Chandler writes in his motion. He is asking that the court order El-Bayeh to show why he ''should not be imprisoned.''

Alterman did not return a call for comment. Instead, a spokesperson for Little Caesar, Cathryn Oldham, told Lawyers Weekly that the firm's policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

Chandler says the case is simple: Caesar's Pizza is blatantly violating a court order.

''They have not obeyed the order of the Michigan federal court,'' he says, adding that he recently saw a Caesar's Pizza advertisement using the forbidden language in a local newspaper.

If El-Bayeh does not respond to his motion, Chandler says, ''the likelihood is that the judge would rule in our favor, and I guess the system takes over from there.''

Published: Thu, Nov 19, 2009

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