Back in May, we were one of the first to write about some people claiming to have figured out a new cut of steak, and trying to patent that cut. The story got a lot of attention in a lot of places, as many people (reasonably) think that patenting a cut of meat seems particularly crazy. The good folks over at Planet Money just recently decided to explore the question of meat cut patents. They talk to Tony Mata, the "inventor" of that new meat cut, dubbed the Las Vegas steak, but the... er... "meat" of the conversation actually involves talking to his mentor, Gene Gagliardi, the "inventor" of the Steak-Umm, KFC's popcorn chicken and, according to this video, Popeyes' "Rip'n Chick'n", which Gagliardi calls "Fing'r Pick'n Chick'n" and for which he holds US Patent 5,346,711 on a "Method of making an animal muscle strip product."
In the Planet Money podcast, he also demonstrates some other cuts, which he won't let them videotape. I'm guessing he's okay with showing off the method in the '711 patent because, if I read it right, that patent expires in a month. In the video, he actually appears to admit that the "invention" itself wasn't original. He was "inspired" by the famed "Bloomin' Onion" at Outback Steakhouse, and a challenge from his wife to make a chicken version of the Bloomin' Onion.
Gagliardi appears to hold somewhere around 40 patents on various cuts of meat, all starting from back in the day when he tried to make the meat in Philly Cheesesteaks easier to chew, and supposedly came up with the product that eventually went on to be marketed as "Steak-umms," which were popular when I was a kid. As for "popcorn chicken," well that's US Patent 5,266,064, for a "Method of making a food product from the thigh of a bird and food product made in accordance with the method." And, if I'm reading it correctly, that patent should have expired earlier this year. Assuming that's the case, you may now be able to make your own popcorn chicken without infringing. How exciting.
Of course, for some of us, this still seems ridiculous. Is the progress of the "useful arts" really being promoted by giving a monopoly to someone figuring out new and different ways for fast food joints to chop up their chickens?