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For practicing Buddhists and many others, the image of the Buddha is associated with the renunciation of material goods and worldly pleasures in favor of inner peace.
Yet in a legal battle currently taking place between a Parisian bar and one in Tel Aviv - both of which are named after him - the question of who owns the commercial rights and profits related to the Buddha "brand" reigns supreme.
Founded in Paris in 1996 by French businessman Raymond Visan, the Buddha Bar quickly became a trendy hotspot, attracting a host of young, globe-trotting trendsetters and international celebrities.
Inspired by Far Eastern temples, it features a monumental statue of the Buddha. Soon after its opening, it became frequented by the likes of Madonna, Hugh Grant and Jean Paul Gautier, and its dragon-shaped bar became a favorite watering hole for other actors, designers and supermodels.
Visan's concept was to create a restaurant and bar with a nightclub atmosphere and Asian-inspired cuisine. Soon enough, house DJ Claude Challe's chill-out music spawned a series of CDs, released by Visan's record label. Having acquired an international following, the Buddha Bar - like similar venues - earned a place on the itinerary of every tourist in Paris under a certain age.
Like numerous other brand-names with a global allure, the Buddha Bar label also inspired the creation of numerous offshoots with similar design elements and identical or related names, from San Francisco to Dubai - occasionally also incurring the wrath of local Buddhists opposed to the commercialization of his image.
Tel Aviv's Buddha-themed locale celebrated its anniversary Monday night with an extravagant party, which owners said cost them more than NIS 50,000. It opened in 2003 at the Tel Aviv port, one of the city's nightlife centers.
A golden Buddha, seated in a lotus position, is prominently placed at the center of the club above a heart-shaped bar. Another upright Buddha welcomes guests at the entrance, while a large image of the Buddha's face decorates the restaurant exterior.
Last year, the Buddha Bar in Paris sued the Tel Aviv restaurant for NIS 2.25 million, accusing it of violating its trademark to cash in on its alleged international reputation.
Reading the lawsuit filed by Buddha Bar Paris and the response to it by the Tel Aviv establishment, however, might give the impression that the two documents are talking about two different issues.
According to the plaintiff's representative in Israel, attorney Yitzhak Appelfeld, the owners of the Israeli restaurant "adopted the commercial name and other unique qualities linked to the Buddha Bar enterprise and falsely presented themselves in the past and continue to falsely present themselves as connected to the brand name Buddha Bar.
"In this way, they have made huge sums of money, while causing damage to the property and stealing the good name of the Buddha Bar."
The Tel Aviv restaurant sent its reply to Tel Aviv District Court, denying the allegations. According to attorney Sarah Prazanti, her clients changed the name of the restaurant as soon as the Paris restaurant complained. "The respondents now go by the name Buddha Tel Aviv or Buddha, wrote Prazanti, "and therefore no longer infringe on the plaintiff's rights."
But while rejecting this argument, Buddha Bar Paris also had other complaints about the Tel Aviv restaurant. It charged that the local restaurant had copied its d cor, including the gigantic Buddha statue in the dining room and the style of its food and bar.
Prazanti denied it all. "The respondents did not choose the name of the business because of the Paris restaurant or imitate its design," she wrote. "The architects chose the design of the bar and the elements they chose were appropriate to the kind of restaurant the owners had in mind. The architects have never seen the Paris restaurant and it was not the inspiration for what they did."
Appelfeld told The Jerusalem Post the Israeli restaurant did everything possible to link itself in the public's mind to the Buddha Bar. It chose two Internet domains which included the name Buddha Bar, and published restaurant reviews that linked the two establishments.
He also charged that the Buddha Bar had registered the restaurant name as a trademark in Israel and that its use by others constituted property theft.
In her reply to the suit, Prazanti wrote that the Buddha Bar had no right to register the trademark, since it had no intention of ever opening a branch in Israel. All it wanted, she charged, was to prevent anyone else from opening a restaurant using the name.
Noam Kolman, who owns the Israeli restaurant with his brother, Eran, told the The Jerusalem Post the two had created the bar after Noam traveled to Thailand and was inspired by a Buddha statue he saw there.
"My dream of opening a bar could finally come true, because I found a theme," Kolman said, adding that the official name of the Tel Aviv bar was "Buddha Tel Aviv."
Contrary to the plaintiff's accusations, Kolman said the Tel Aviv venue invested large sums in maintaining the high quality of the bar, kitchen and general upkeep.
"It's our creation, and it is in no way similar to the bar in Paris in terms of its size or design," he said. "It's a very Israeli place."
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