Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The seafood diet: We see food and ....

Dear Rich: I'm wondering if I could trademark or patent a seafood sauce  that I am in the process of creating. Basically I will have all the rights to the name, but not sure what the law is for the ingredients. The type of sauce is unique and most people make their own, but I want to bottle it. What's the best way to protect myself. I think some companies would want to steal my idea. What to do???? Thanks for your question and since you're a frequent blog reader, we wanted to remind you that the Dear Rich Staff is confused by repeating punctuation. Does ???? make the question more or less urgent ?????
Right, you had a question. You have four potential tools for protecting recipes: copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets. 

  • Copyright. You can forget about protecting a single recipe under copyright law (it's hard enough to protect a book of them) as we discussed in this blog entry
  • Patents. As for patent law, you may be able to patent a method for preparing a seafood sauce but (a) you'll probably have a hard time proving novelty), (b) it takes more than a year to get a patent, and (c) the recipe will be published for the world to see.
  • Trademarks. You can reserve your trademark at the USPTO provided that you have a bona fide intent to sell the sauce. Trademark protection, combined with savvy marketing is the typical scenario for protecting sauces and condiments. Alternatively, you may wish to try and find some celebrity (or pseudo-celebrity) who can raise the awareness of your marketing and in that case, the mark may relate to the celebrity endorsement. We're not saying we wouldn't have bought our George Foreman big grill and little grill if it weren't for George. But we might not have heard about them without the name association. 
  • Trade secrets. Many famous recipes are maintained as trade secrets --  Coca Cola being the most well known. You would use nondisclosure agreements with your manufacturers and distributors. Anyone can reverse-engineer and use your secret method but that doesn't seem to have had any effect on Coke sales.
Speaking of seafood. We're featuring our favorite seafood sandwich, the Reuben sandwich made with halibut and prepared by the world's greatest seafood restaurant.