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Judge Denies TRO In Chicago Hot Dog/Trade Secrets War

Vienna Beef, the official hot dog of the Chicago Cubs, recently struck out in its effort to obtain a temporary restraining order against hot dog rival Red Hot Chicago, Inc. and the grandson of one of the founders of Vienna Beef, Scott D. Ladany.

Among other beefs in its federal court lawsuit, Vienna Beef accused the defendants of misappropriating trade secrets by using Vienna Beef recipes. As evidence of misappropriation, Vienna Beef pointed to Red Hot Chicago advertising material which made reference to using “family recipes” – that is, recipes now owned by Vienna Beef, rather than the defendants.

In response to Vienna Beef’s motion for a temporary restraining order to halt such alleged trade secret misappropriation, Ladany submitted an affidavit stating that Red Hot Chicago does not use the Vienna Beef recipe developed by his grandfather and that Red Hot Chicago’s recipe was in fact independently developed.

Based on this affidavit, the court held that, notwithstanding Red Hot Chicago’s advertising, “Vienna Beef has shown no evidence that the recipes were used in [Red Hot Chicago’s] business and therefore cannot show that it is likely to succeed on the merits of this claim.” Accordingly, injunctive relief was not appropriate on this claim.

The court’s ruling does not mean that Vienna Beef lacks a valid trade secrets claim or that it won’t be able to eventually prove it. Rather, it merely illustrates the challenge of obtaining injunctive relief with a limited evidentiary record, particularly where there are disputed issues of fact.