Friday, June 10, 2011, 6/10/2011 11:18:00 AM

Charlotte Bakery/Hang-Out Sues Florida Bakery/Hang-Out for Copying

By Todd

Amelie's is in Charlotte, North Carolina's trendy NoDa neighborhood and is open 24/7. It features a shabby-chic living room with availability of comfy couches and tables where patrons hang out with laptops and books and drink high-octane coffee and eat scones and the like.

The Charlotte Observer is reporting on a new lawsuit in which Amelie's owners are suing a Florida bakery that opened as an Amelie's, in partnership with the Charlotte people - but has since renamed itself Sophie's.

Here's what's undisputed from both sides: Todd and Carole Binkowski were longtime Amelie's fans when they lived in Charlotte. When the couple moved to Tampa, they and the Amelie's owners - Lynn St. Laurent, Bill Lamb and Brenda Ische - agreed to go into partnership to see if an Amelie's could work in the Hyde Park neighborhood there. People from Amelie's worked on the new space's look and food, and it opened in late February.

Then versions diverge.

The Amelie's owners' suit says the Binkowskis knew Amelie's wanted to franchise, while Todd Binkowski said the goal was only to "prove" the business model, and that he did not expect to be treated like a franchisee.

Negotiations went back and forth, according to the suit, including numbers from $50,000 to $75,000 for Amelie's "know-how" and various spellings-out of who would decide what could be sold in Tampa and who would own new recipes.

No agreement was reached, the Binkowskis renamed the Tampa place Sophie's and the suit was filed June 6 in U.S. District Court in Florida.

These types of lawsuits rarely end up with true winners. We imagine Sophie's is going to have to prove its recipes and concoctions are not copied from Amelie's. We also imagine that the "look of Amelie's" trade dress argument is going to be hard for Amelie's to prove has gained secondary meaning. But, we shall see.


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