Chef James Cochran, formerly of restaurant James Cochran EC3, has become the latest celebrity creative to have to drop their own name as a brand after leaving the business that helped establish their reputation.

It is a recurring issue, with notable court cases in the designer world in particular. Both Karen Millen and Elizabeth Emanual (famously the designer of Princess Diana's wedding dress) lost court cases and the right to use their own names as trading names after selling the original businesses. (Millen v Karen Millen Fashions Ltd & Anor [2016] EWHC 2104 and Case C-259/04, Elizabeth Florence Emanuel v Continental Shelf 128 Ltd [2006] ETMR 56.)

Even mere lawyers are not immune. Last year a former partner in a law firm unsuccessfully sued her former firm for passing off in relation to the firm's continued use of her name as part of a trading name for a service line which she helped to build up. (Bhayani and another v Taylor Bracewell LLP [2016] EWHC 3360 (IPEC), 22 December 2016.) 

In the present case, Chef James Cochran has parted company with his former employer, the restaurant, which owns a registered trade mark for his name. There has been some mudslinging and typical misreporting ("copyright" and "trade mark" being used interchangeably, as journalists often do) so it is difficult to get the full measure of the matter.

In reality, the validity the restaurant's trade mark registration, and the chef's ability to trade under his own name will likely come down to the terms of any contract between them and whether or not the chef had accrued any goodwill as a well-regarded chef in his own right before their relationship.

He would of course be able to trade under his own name as a sole trader, availing himself of the statutory "own name defence". But that defence will soon not apply to any company he sets up to trade. In 2015 the defence was removed for corporates in respect of EU trade mark proceedings and in June 2018 the UKIPO confirmed plans to align the Trade Marks Act 1994 accordingly.