Julia Child’s family is embroiled in a lawsuit with Thermador, a company founded in 1916 that produces a line of cooking, cleaning, refrigeration and ventilation products.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the central focus of cross-filed law suits is a marketing campaign, launched without the permission of Child’s estate, that vaunts Julia Child’s use of Thermador appliances decades ago in her home and television kitchens.
The LA Times notes that in her four decades as America’s cooking teacher, Julia Child was strongly opposed to commercial endorsements and didn’t do them.
“It was sort of a life philosophy that she had,” her great nephew, Alex Prud’homme, said, recalling how she frequently remarked, “Your name is your most valuable asset, and you should be very careful how it’s used.”
There were Thermador appliances on the Boston set where Child filmed “The French Chef” in the 1960s and 1970s and a Thermador oven in the kitchen of her Cambridge residence — a room, the Times notes, that is now displayed as a national treasure at the Smithsonian Institution.
The Julia Child Foundation for the Culinary Arts, a charitable foundation to which she left her intellectual property, including trademarks, copyrights and the use of her likeness, contends Thermador required the foundation’s approval before launching a Thermador marketing campaign — approval Thermador knows they never would have received.
“The foundation feels really strongly about continuing to conduct itself as Julia would have. And she was adamant that she not personally endorse products or brands,” said Todd Schulkin, the foundation’s intellectual property manager.
The foundation discovered that Thermador was using her photos and name this summer. And since Child’s popularity has increased with new books about her life and the 2009 film “Julie & Julia”, the foundation has increased its surveillance for copyright infringement.
“It took us some amount of time for us to see the extent to which [Thermador and its ad agency] were using that connection, and it seemed to develop in magnitude over time,” said Schulkin, who was a friend of Child.
The foundation demanded Thermador cease in July, and declined to allow the ad agency running the Thermador campaign the rights to use Child as an endoresement.
Thermador’s parent company, BSH Home Appliances, filed a suit in Boston asking a federal judge to make a legal declaration that they had the right to use Child’s connection to the brand in its marketing materials.
In its complaint, BSH’s lawyers wrote that the company’s use of Child’s photo and name “do not state or imply any endorsement” but “reflect on the long history, significance and influence of Thermador products on American society and culture.”
Child’s foundation filed its own suit accusing Thermador and their ad agency of misappropriating intellectual property.
The suit demands millions in damages as well as a cut of profits derived from the use of Child’s name to be paid to the foundation.
Thermador’s material makes “it appear as though Julia Child has been a company spokesman,” the federal suit stated.
Child, the foundation’s lawyers wrote, “could have created a lifestyle brand like Martha Stewart or Oprah Winfrey, and endorsed major corporations and product manufacturerers, like Thermador and others, for large sums of money. She chose to forgo all such commercial opportunities,” they wrote.
Julia Child Wasn’t For Sale
Prud’homme, her great nephew, said Child was wary of anything that would undermine her life’s work as a “teacher of cookery.”
“She saw other chefs…the products they endorsed weren’t always of the highest quality, and she saw that could devalue their cultural currency, and she didn’t want to fall into that trap, said Prud’homme, who co-authored the memoir “My Life in France” with Child.