Bread Battles Raise Questions About Intellectual Property And Recipes
from the not-this-again dept
In this era where everyone wants to “own” unownable ideas and concepts, is it any wonder that there’s more and more talk about the idea of extending copyright to other things? We’ve already discussed how the fashion industry has been agitating for special new “copyrights” despite the fact that their industry is thriving, in part because of the lack of protectionism in the industry. In fact, research suggests that adding such protectionism would significantly harm the industry, by slowing down innovation, decreasing competition and output.
A second area where we’ve seen stories similar to this is in the food industry. While we just wrote about the ridiculous story of Lebanon wanting official “food copyright” on hummus, falafel and other middle eastern treats, there are some chefs who take the idea of recipe ownership quite seriously. As it stands today, a recipe is not copyrightable — though the description of how to cook the recipe could be. The list of ingredients, however, is factual.
But chefs are increasingly trying to somehow guard what makes them unique. We’ve already seen stories of restaurant owners suing former employees for opening up similar restaurants, but it’s not clear what’s illegal about that at all. If you think you can do a better job than your boss, then splitting off and forming a competitor is how innovation happens. Just look at the history of Silicon Valley, and you see this repeated time and time again. The traitorous eight famously quit Shockley Semiconductor to form Fairchild Semiconductor, because they didn’t like how Shockley ran his company (as well as his decision that silicon wasn’t worth pursuing). Without that we wouldn’t have “Silicon” Valley. And, of course, from people leaving Fairchild, Intel was born.
But, for folks not in the tech industry, apparently these sorts of splits still seem controversial. My friend Tom sent over an article in The Atlantic about battles over bread recipes and bakeries in New York. Apparently, two partners at a bakery split up, and the author of the article expresses some concern over the “ownership” of the bakery’s distinctive bread recipes. The article also notes a similar split between the partners of the famous Magnolia cup cake shop in New York, leading one to form a competitor with a similar recipe. Amongst these battles, though, there is one part regarding the bread makers that seems questionable and fraudulent (which happened separately from the ownership split). One of the bread distributors hired on some of the original bakery’s employees and started baking its own bread, but used the name and logo of the original bakery, and then delivered the bread to restaurants without letting them know that it wasn’t from the actual bakery. That’s outright fraud.
But the good news in this story is that while it appears the “divorce” between bakery owners wasn’t that pleasant, and the original owner isn’t thrilled that there’s a competitor in the space, he does seem to realize that there are better ways to go about dealing with the issue than trying to “protect” his bread (especially since his recipes are based on old Roman recipes). He actually notes that the bigger challenge is increasing the size of the “craft bread” market and taking away business from the big industrial bread makers. It’s not about protectionism of a tiny market, it’s about increasing the overall pie of the market he’s in — and that may even mean teaming up with his former partner with whom he split, noting that he’s looking to form a Craft Bread Association, and will ask his former partner to be the first member. How refreshing.