Trade Secrets: Protect Your Secret Recipes

How Do I Protect My Recipes?

A common question I often hear from clients is, “How do I protect my beer/wine/liquor recipe?”  This is an important question for my clients, given how much time and resources go into research and development.

 Can’t I Just Patent My Recipe?

Probably not.  There have been some alcohol beverage recipes patented in the past, but since mankind has been making alcohol beverages for hundreds or thousands of years, it is pretty unlikely that your recipe will be considered “new” and “non-obvious” (two of the main requirements for patentability).

Also, why would you want to patent your recipe?  Part of the trade-off for getting a patent is thoroughly describing your recipe and how to best make it.  While you might enjoy the, at best, 20 year monopoly to make your beverage that your patent would provide you, after your patent rights expire, your competitors will be free to copy your product and sell it under their own name.

Read more about Beer Patents Here.

What Else Can I Do?

There is still hope for your secret recipes, though, in the form of “Trade Secrets.”  The Uniform Trade Secrets Act of 1984 defines a “Trade Secret” as “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that: (1) Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public or to other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and (2) Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.”  Assuming you did not just take the recipe from a book or internet article, your beverage recipe almost certainly meets the first requirement.  The main question, then, is whether you are taking “reasonable” efforts to protect your recipes.

Reasonable Efforts

In order to maintain a recipe as a Trade Secret, you will need to take reasonable precautions to prevent the disclosure of your “secret” recipes.  Typical precautions include:

  1. Informing your employees, business partners, or anyone else who is privy to your recipes that you regard them to be valuable trade secrets;
  2. Having those people who are aware of your recipes sign a confidentiality agreement.  In practice, you should probably have a clause discussing confidentiality in your employment agreements and business organization documents (you may also want to include Non-Compete Clauses, to be discussed in a future article);
  3. Keeping your recipes in a password-protected file on a computer or database that is not accessible to the public, or if you are old school put the paper copies in a fireproof safe.

Other precautions may be necessary depending on your specific circumstances.

As always, I recommend that you work with a competent attorney to help provide you with customized advice regarding how to best protect your valuable Trade Secrets.  Call or email us today to discuss whether Trade Secret protection is right for you.

About Dan

Daniel Christopherson of DCBrewLaw.com is a beer and trademark attorney at Lehrman Beverage Law. He is an avid craft beer enthusiast who helps new and established breweries develop their business models, comply with the TTB and FDA, and protect their intellectual property.
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2 Responses to Trade Secrets: Protect Your Secret Recipes

  1. Debra says:

    I have a question regarding the protection of a recipe that I have, though it is not a beverage.
    The recipe created is a for a gourmet chocolate chip cookie and I want to make sure this recipe is protected. At this particular time I do not have a company but am giving serious thought to selling the cookies or in place of that, taking it to a company who could make them for me where I might be entitled to a portion of the profits realized.

    What can I do to protect my recipe overall?

    • Dan says:

      Probably your best best will be to have a non-disclosure agreement in-hand before you meet with companies. Feel free to give me a call at (202)449-3739, ext 708 to discuss.

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