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Rank offer derided in dollars 750m Hard Rock dispute

RANK ORGANISATION, the Anglo-American leisure and catering group, is understood to have offered dollars 3m ( pounds 2m) to settle a dollars 750m legal dispute with the owners of Hard Rock America, which owns 13 Hard Rock Cafes in Australia, South America and California.

The case, which is due to go to arbitration in the US next month, is based on claims that Rank and the other owners of Planet Hollywood, the rival upmarket hamburger chain, have copied Hard Rock's menus, merchandise and entertainment and music themes. HRA also claims that Planet outlets have been built or planned near each of the 13 HRA branches.

Hard Rock Cafes, with a celebrated branch in London's Piccadilly, feature original rock memorabilia such as the guitars of Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other past stars. There are also some film mementoes.

Planet Hollywood's outlets centre on film icons such as original costumes and props. A spokesman for Rank had no comment on the case or the reported settlement offer. But the company's 1993 annual report scaled down from dollars 1.5bn to dollars 250m a reference to the size of the claim.

It added: 'The directors of the Rank Organisation, having been advised by their American lawyers, believe the case to be baseless. The directors believe that this action will not result in a material adverse effect on the financial condition of the group.'

But one of HRA's 120 or so investors said yesterday: 'We regard the dollars 3m offer as derisory. It would only cover our legal expenses.' HRA's investors claim dollars 250m in actual damages and dollars 500m in punitive damages.

The case dates back to 1985, when Hard Rock was split. The part covering east coast America and Europe was bought by Pleasurama, eventually bought by Rank. It was operated by Robert Earl until 1992. He then set up Planet Hollywood, with Rank's backing.