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Does a recipe count as intellectual property?

Dec 23, 2021 | Copyright Law

Food plays a significant role in the holiday season. People might dust off their grandmother’s pumpkin pie recipe or whip up some of their famous wild rice soup to share at a party. 

However, just because someone’s name is on a recipe does not mean they own it, at least in the legal sense. 

IP tools that do not protect recipes

People might think of a recipe as they think of a work of art. After all, people often express themselves through their baking and cooking. However, a recipe is not the same as a poem or painting that someone could copyright.

As one New York Times article describes, a recipe is a factual list of ingredients and steps, not a creative expression. Because of this, people typically do not (or cannot) copyright recipes.

And in terms of patenting a recipe, a person can run into difficulties when proving it is novel and not obvious.

So, how can I protect my recipe?

That said, there are ways you can protect your tasty creations. 

If you are writing a cookbook, you can use images, photographs and narrative content that you can copyright. You can present your recipes in a specific sequence and copyright that.

You may also be able to trademark the name of your recipe if you plan to sell it.

Another option can be to protect a recipe as a trade secret, which is something that companies like Coca-Cola, KFC and Hershey’s do. Whether a concoction involves a secret ingredient, precise blend of spices or a specific technique, parties can keep others from copying their creation in a few ways:

  • Restrict access to the information to keep it confidential
  • Have parties sign confidentiality agreements
  • Conduct training for anyone handling or accessing the secret information

Infringing on IP is in poor taste

People can easily share, copy or steal recipes they find in cookbooks or online. However, if these actions infringe on someone’s IP rights, there can be legal penalties and costly consequences.

Recipes can be tricky to protect as intellectual property, but it is not impossible. Legal guidance and an understanding of different IP strategies can be two essential ingredients to make it happen.

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