Were you listening last night as the music built up a frenzy in the MasterChef kitchen, your mouth watering as you watched the chefs create dishes of pure culinary genius and, as they served, did you find yourself wishing that for just 5 minutes you could be John or Gregg sitting at that dinner table? I know I did! And that got me thinking – I have eaten many similar dishes in different restaurants – so just how is the creative genius of a chef protected? Here’s the nitty gritty of protection in the world of tantalising culinary delights.
As a chef, your dishes may emanate your pride and creative flair, but sadly, copyright protection is blurred around the edges in this area. In terms of copyright protection, recipe books are a safe zone and replication can land you in a (s)pot of trouble. But creating a dish from a recipe is not considered copyright infringement, nor can the dish itself be copyrighted. On the bright side, there are sidesteps around this in which ingredients can be copyrighted by ‘surrounding rights’. In order to do this your ingredients have to be listed or tabulated and be original in their grouping. This is easier said than done and requires a demonstration of sufficient skill and effort, mere accuracy is not enough to make the cut. Any way you slice it, chefs seem to be getting the raw end of the deal.
Don’t be disheartened though! The patent path offers a brighter alternative. Many a culinary inventor has patented their idea. In order to, this one must bear in mind that the same rules apply for patenting a recipe as apply to all inventions. In order to stand any chance of patenting your dish, your recipe must be
Food recipes can be patented by composition (your ingredients) or process or a combination of both. Composition refers to the unique combination of ingredients and/or the unique order of that combination. Processes are methods of cooking such as sautéing, blanching or aging and may include a unique order of process application. The inventive elements in successful food patents range from involving substitute ingredients and additives that improve certain qualities in the end dish to the more commercial shelf-life extending inventions and mass scale food production.
Tantalising Trade secrets
Of course, you could simply choose to keep your invention a secret if you are able to profit from it on a large scale and are willing to go to great lengths to keep it undisclosed. This is known as a trade secret. Unlike patents, trade secrets have the advantage of indefinite protection for so long as they remain undisclosed. Bear in mind however, that it is perfectly legal for a competitor to reverse engineer you invention. If they are successful, your invention will no longer be protected as it would be with a patent. This is just how Coca Cola have managed to keep their recipe for coke underwraps. Pepsi just doesn’t taste quite the same!
So if you do decide to go ahead with a patent, here are a number of points to consider.
The DON’TS of food patents:
- You can’t patent Great Grandma Gale’s delicious tiramisu. Why not? Well for one, you are not Great Grandma Gale! Also, with the popularity of that tiramisu it is more than likely that it has been made, served and digested by many! This means it has been publicly disclosed, which takes us to don’t number 2:
- Whilst it might be your pride and joy, don’t boast about your inventive dish by serving it at your next dinner party until you’ve safely secured patent protection. Providing of course you see commercial mileage in the dish!
- Whilst you might have a patentable invention, first consider weighing the benefits of patent protection against the costs. Don’t be so caught up in the excitement of your invention that you immediately decide to patent without giving it a second thought. How profitable will your patent be to you or your company?
Right now though, there is nothing stopping you from imitating a MasterChef and donning that apron to recreate Andrew’s praline and chocolate pear with coffee and blackberry macaroons. Off you go!
At Venture Proof we appreciate the value of your invention from the skill and effort right at the start, to the pride and joy of your final product. We can help you determine whether a patent will be a worthwhile investment for you and have fixed price packages to take the financial strain off the exciting process. Contact us on 0203 086 8110 for some advice, or have a look at our services to see which of our packages would be right for you.
By Ghabiba Weston, part of the Venture Proof team.