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As a chef, your work can sometimes be overlooked when it comes to intellectual property. Whether you have recently started a new restaurant or are a seasoned professional with a catalogue of famous dishes, you should consider what part of your work is protected by intellectual property law. However, intellectual property in the food industry is not as simple as it can be in other creative industries, such as the literary and film industries. In the following article, we will break down how you may interact with intellectual property law in the course of your profession as a chef.

Copyright

Copyright protects the expression of an idea and not the idea itself. This concept can be challenging for anyone to get their head around. However, we can apply it to some tangible examples in your profession.

Recipes

In theory, you should be able to protect a recipe as a literary work under copyright. In practice, however, this does not offer much in the way of tangible protection. Owning copyright in a recipe only allows you to stop people from replicating the written guide. It does not prevent them from following the recipe. This is because the purpose of a recipe is to offer a step-by-step guide to replicate a particular dish.

Cookbooks

You can claim copyright as the author of a cookbook. However, be mindful that engaging a publisher or distributor may complicate your rights. Copyright will protect the published book itself, rather than your original dishes. 

Trade Marks

If you own your own restaurant, you should ensure that you have effectively protected your brand identity. You should obtain trade marks for:

  • the restaurant name;
  • any logos;
  • any slogans; or 
  • any key terms that you have coined. 

This will protect you from other businesses profiting off your reputation.

For example, if you own a plant-based burger business called Plant Patties, you should trade mark this name to avoid another business opening a restaurant in a new location and copying your name. 

Patents

Essentially, a recipe will not receive patented protection if it is just a mixture of known ingredients. This basically means that although your recipe may appear to be a unique combination of ingredients, if the ingredients aren’t themselves unique, the recipe will not receive patent protection. 

Trade Secrets

A trade secret is the most effective way of protecting your ‘secret sauce’. Trade secrets can protect confidential information like the secret formulas, processes or methods your business uses in trade. A trade secret is not registrable and the onus is on you to prevent other people from using it. This means that you should ensure employees or other parties that come into contact with the particular trade secret sign a contract prohibiting them from disclosing it. 

For example, if you make famous hot sauce with a special recipe and your employees help you to produce the sauce, you should have them sign a contract that stops them from sharing the recipe with anyone else. 

How to Protect Your IP

Once you have identified your intellectual property, there are a number of ways you can protect it.

Non-Disclosure Agreements

Non-disclosure agreements are legally binding contracts that prevent parties to the agreement from sharing sensitive information should they gain access to it. As with all contracts, NDAs are private agreements negotiated between the relevant parties. An NDA can potentially last indefinitely as long as the contract remains in force.

Licences

As the owner of IP, it is your right to licence your IP out to another person or company to use. Both yourself and the other party agree on the terms of this use. This is known as a licensing agreement. As the owner of the IP, you are the licensor and the other party is the licensee.

You should negotiate the terms of use in this agreement with the other party to secure your best interests. These terms regulate the agreement and can include: 

  • restricting the licensee’s use to a particular geographical location; and
  • The payment of rights in the form of royalties.

In addition, there are multiple types of licence and each has their own approach to licensing your intellectual property. Types of licenses include:

  • exclusive, where the owner of the IP grants only one licence and cannot use the IP themselves;
  • non-exclusive, where the owner of the IP can grant more than one license and can use the IP themselves.
  • sole, where the owner of the IP can grant only one licence and can use the IP themselves.

Again, you want to make sure that the type of licence you choose and the terms of this licence are commercial. An agreement that is too restrictive to the licensee may put off potentially interested parties. However, you do not want a loose licence agreement because its purpose is to ensure you are getting some kind of benefit from your intellectual property.

Employment Contracts

If you are concerned about your employees leaking trade secrets, you can include confidentiality agreements within your employment contracts. This will limit the need for your employees to sign multiple contracts. 

Key Takeaways

As a chef, you may have intellectual property that you want to protect. You should consider protecting your brand first through trade mark registration. After that, you can ask yourself if you have genuinely invented a mixture of ingredients that is entirely original and consider patent protection. Once you have collated all the different types of intellectual property you own, you should make sure that any employees or investors you share it with have signed the relevant agreements. If you need help with protecting your intellectual property as a chef, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I protect my recipes as a chef?

Your best bet to protect your valuable recipes is through trade secrets. You can keep your recipe secret by asking your employees or anyone else privy to the recipe to sign contracts prohibiting them from sharing the recipe.

What should I trade mark as a chef or restaurant owner?

If you own a restaurant or food business, you should consider trade marking your business name, logo, slogan or jingle.

Can I patent a recipe?

In most cases, you will be unable to patent your recipe. This is because you cannot patent a specific combination of known ingredients. 

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