Can you trademark a cookbook recipe

Trademarks, Copyrights, Patents: Can You Protect a Cookbook Recipe?

Let’s say you’ve created a scrumptious recipe that is uniquely yours. You haven’t seen it on the Food Network and it’s not something you read on a restaurant menu – it’s your own invention. You might feel the need to protect it. Securing legal protection for a recipe isn’t an easy-as-1-2-3 process- there are some formalities to consider. With that said, we’ll take a look at the different forms of legal protection and whether a recipe qualifies for them or not.

As a quick side note, we want to remind you that we are not legal experts ourselves and the information we’re sharing is based on the research of intellectual property laws.

4 Levels of Legal Protection for Cookbook Publishers to Know

A cold hard truth in the culinary world is that no one truly owns a recipe. At some point, if a recipe becomes famous, other cooks and chefs will emulate it or at least draw inspiration from it. That’s how beginner chefs learn their craft and how more experienced ones expand their culinary repertoire.

With that said, there are certain instances where a chef or cook should protect their creation when they have the legal right to do so. Whatever the occasion, the recipe’s legal status will have to somehow qualify for one of four types of intellectual property termscopyright, patent, trademark and trade secrets.

Copyright

The purpose of copyright law is to protect the creators and authors of original works, whether that work is a musical composition, literary work or some other form of creation.

Recipes themselves are not protected by copyright. Yes, they might contain your own unique blend of ingredients or feature an innovative cooking method, but you don’t own the names of food ingredients or cooking techniques. For example, ingredients such as “1 tbsp of butter” or “bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit” are facts and instructions. They’re considered utilitarian information that is freely available to the public, and you can’t own them.

But there is some good news. After you publish a cookbook, copyright law can protect you if your food preparations incorporate highly creative concepts. In other words, if you are naming them, artfully designing them or creating them in collaboration with another brand or an event, you might be able to obtain a copyright for your work.

One example of this is Caitilin Freeman’s Mondrian cake and her cookbook, Modern Art Desserts. The cakes were created for the Blue Bottle Coffee at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and featured intricate design patterns reminiscent of artistic masterpieces. She was most certainly able to obtain a copyright for her cookbook.

Patent

The purpose of a patent is to protect an invention that solves technical problems. In the culinary world, a patent may provide more value than copyright if you’ve created a new tool, method or formula as that would fall under the category of “invention”.

However, there are some ground rules that chefs need to know before seeking a patent. The invention must be the first of its kind, unknown to the rest of the world. Also, the form this invention takes needs consideration as well. A new mechanical tool will most likely have no issue getting a patent. A new substance may be eligible for a chemical patent. A new recipe, on its own, would likely not get considered.

Of course, if your recipe has some sort of zany new chemical composition, then it may qualify for a chemical patent. The greater likelihood though is that it may qualify for a trade secret (more on this below). Again, simply arranging a new way to combine ingredients is viewed as public knowledge, and therefore, not up for patent consideration.

Trademark

Trademark law protects brand names, logos, taglines/slogans and catchphrases. Every famous food tagline you can think of such as McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” and Burger King’s “Have It Your Way”, are trademarked expressions. It can also protect a food brand’s packaging and the appearance/shape of its food from being stolen. For example, the Coca Cola bottle is trademarked for its iconic shape.

Ultimately, a trademark is geared towards protecting brand assets behind a food product, as opposed to its recipe. This may seem like a disadvantage for the average cook or chef, but for those who own restaurants, this is great news. Not only will trademark law protect your restaurant name, logo and slogan (if you have one), it can protect the creative names of meals on your menu.

Keep in mind too, that if you want to create a recipe book, for commercial purposes, the name of that book can be submitted for a trademark.

Trade Secrets

You’ve probably noticed a recurring theme here – the law doesn’t protect recipes themselves. They offer protection for the works they appear in, such as a cookbook, or the food products they’re used in. However, there’s another form of legal protection that chefs and cooks may want to consider – trade secrets.

A trade secret is essentially a form of information that is only known by its owner or creator, which usually gives them a competitive advantage. Many recipes for food and drinks are trade secrets – Coca Cola’s ingredient base, KFC batter and more. Essentially, their unique combination of ingredients will not be shared with the public.

When a recipe qualifies as a trade secret, the creator can rest assured that its ingredients will never be revealed. There is one caveat here: a recipe that’s considered a trade secret can’t appear in a cookbook because its ingredients must remain hidden to retain its status.

Should Cookbook Publishers Protect Their Recipes?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. It simply depends on what a chef or a cook is looking to protect and for what purpose. Let’s summarize what we’ve discussed above.

Copyright law protects actual works of authorship such as a cookbook but not recipes themselves. A patent protects inventions that solve technical problems (ie. a new type of kitchen utensil), while trademarks protect a brand’s identity (ie. Kelloggs, The Keg’s logo, KFC recipes). Trade secrets, however, can protect a recipe as long as the ingredients of that recipe are never revealed.

If you are looking to create a recipe book, especially for commercial use, then you might want to consider copyright. A trade secret can protect your recipe from being stolen, but that would mean you couldn’t put it in your cookbook because its ingredients would then be public knowledge.

With all that said, your final decision should also come from the insights of a lawyer. They will help you determine what the best course of action is along with alternatives if a certain form of intellectual property doesn’t work for you.

Are you looking to create a recipe book but have no idea where to start? Take a look at our resources page to help you find recipes and other inspirations for your culinary creations!

Oatmeal raspberry muffins

Oatmeal raspberry muffins
I made these muffins the other morning for the family and they were a huge hit. Not only were they moist and satisfying right out of the oven, but they stayed soft the next day too.

Ingredients

1 cup oats
1 cup buttermilk (or milk with 1 tsp vinegar or lemon juice)
zest of one lemon (optional)
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup frozen berries (blueberries or raspberries are great here- cranberries would work too, but up the sugar to 1 1/2 cups)
White sugar for sprinkling on top

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 375
Line muffin tin with non stick liners, or grease muffin tin
Mix milk and vinegar if you are not using buttermilk
Add egg, vanilla and oil
In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and soda
Mix in frozen berries
Add wet ingredients to dry. Mix with as few strokes as possible until just blended
Spoon into prepared muffin tin, filling 3/4 of the way
Sprinkle with sugar
Bask 20-25 minutes until just set

Cool and enjoy :)
Fresh berry muffins

Refrigerator pickled vegetables

I recently learned how to make quick refrigerator pickles from my greek friend Peggy. Now I’m obsessed! They’re so super quick and easy, deliciously crunchy and spicy. Try pickled onions on burgers, in salads, gourmet sandwiches, next to grilled meats… Or how about pickled beans in a spicy bloody mary (or Ceasar for my Canadian friends!). And pickled jalapenos on fish tacos, picked cauliflower on a cheese and charcuterie platter – well, they just make everything better!
pickled veg

Ingredients for pickled onions, beans, asparagus or cauliflower

1-2 red onions, cauliflower, green beans or asparagus
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 to 1 cup apple cider vinegar, or as needed to fill your jar (I prefer white vinegar for beans, asparagus and cauliflower)
1/2 tsp pickling spices (you can make your own with peppercorns, mustard seed, coriander seed, bay leaf, chili pepper- experiment with the tastes that you enjoy)

Ingredients for pickled jalapenos

Kalapenos
2 cloves garlic, sliced or smashed
2 tsp coarse salt
1-3 tblsp sugar (higher quantity of sugar will lessen the heat of jalapenos)
3/4 – 1 cup white vinegar
2 thai chili peppers (if you like additional spice)
1/2 tsp pickling spices (see note above)

Preparation instructions

Prepare vegetables- for onion and jalapenos, slice into thin slices
For beans, trim into lengths that will fit into your jar
For cauliflower, trim into small florets
Wash prepared vegetables with hot water from the kettle, dry on a paper towel
Add all spices to the bottom of a clean 8oz jar
Add 1/4″ of the vinegar and stir until dissolved
Pack vegetables tightly into jar.
Pour remaining vinegar over top, push veggies down father, and top up, leaving a little at the top.
Screw top on and label. Keep refrigerated. These will be ready to eat in a day or two.
Eat within two months. Don’t leave these out on the counter for long periods of time- they are not sterilized, so treat them accordingly!
Tip: don’t use metal when preparing these- it doesn’t get along well with vinegar!
Tip: Change up the flavor by adding fresh thyme, dill, ginger, turmeric- whatever you like!

Super quick curried lentil soup with coconut milk

This is a recipe I make when I have no food in the house! I often just throw a bunch of vegetables together with some red lentils, spices and broth, and see what happens. But I think this version turned out especially delicious with it’s simplicity and cozy warmth. It’s a breeze to make vegan or vegetarian, although, being French, I tend to go for the dairy/bone broth version!
easy curried lentil soup

Ingredients:

1 tsp olive oil (or other type of vegetable oil)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp grated ginger (I used the jarred kind I had in the fridge)
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups red lentils
4 cups broth
1 small 5.5oz can of coconut milk
greek yogurt or sour cream or non dairy alternative for topping
chopped cilantro

Ingredients:

Heat oil in medium saucepan
Add onion, garlic and ginger. Cook over medium/low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring so it doesn’t burn
Add spice. Stir and cook an additional 3 minutes or so.
Add lentils and broth, stir, cover and cook 30 minutes or so until lentils are soft and mushy.
If it gets too dry, add a bit of water. Stir every 10 minutes or so to make sure lentils don’t stick
Add coconut milk.
Heat through.
Serve with a dollop of yogurt, chopped cilantro, and hot sauce (always!)

Cheesy cheddar meatloaf

Ingredient list

2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
32 Ritz crackers, crushed
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon mustard
Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Beat eggs. Add milk and crackers . Stir in onion and cheese. Add ground beef. Mix well. Shape into a loaf.
3. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.
4. Combine ketchup, brown sugar and mustard to make topping. Spoon half of the topping over the meatloaf after 30 min. of baking. Return loaf to over for 10 more min. of baking. Spoon the rest of the topping over meatloaf, return to oven and bake for 5-10 min more.

Creamy chorizo and tortellini soup

Ingredient list

1 lb. chorizo sausage
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 small shallot, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ c. all-purpose flour
5 c. chicken broth
14 oz. refrigerated cheese tortellini
1 tsp. kosher sea salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. Italian seasoning
6 ounces chopped fresh spinach
2 c. half & half (or heavy cream)
Instructions

1. In a large pan set over medium-high, cook the sausage until browned. Drain as much grease from the pan as possible. Set aside.

2. In a large pot, add onion, shallot and carrot, sauté for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional 2 minutes, or until fragrant, stirring occasionally to prevent it from burning.

3. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually add in the chicken broth, whisk to combine. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 6 minutes.

4. Pat as much grease as possible off of the chorizo, then add it along with the tortellini, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, spinach, and half & half. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the tortellini is fully cooked.

5. Serve immediately with freshly grated parmesan, if desired.

Heavenly Halibut

Ingredient list

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped green onions
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 dash hot pepper sauce
2 pounds skinless halibut fillets
Instructions

1. Preheat the oven broiler. Grease a baking dish.

2. In a bowl, mix the Parmesan cheese, butter, mayonnaise, lemon juice, green onions, salt, and hot pepper sauce.

3. Arrange the halibut fillets in the prepared baking dish.

4. Broil halibut fillets 8 minutes in the prepared oven, or until easily flaked with a fork. Spread with the Parmesan cheese mixture, and continue broiling 2 minutes, or until topping is bubbly and lightly browned.

Quick weeknight chicken parmesan

Ingredient list

3/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups Italian bread crumbs
Italian seasoning
2 pounds chicken cutlets
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 (26 oz.) jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
8-12 ounces shredded cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan)
Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a shallow dish, combine flour with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. In a bowl, beat together eggs and 2 Tbsp. water. Place bread crumbs in another shallow dish.

2. Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess. Dip into egg mixture, letting excess drain. Dredge in bread crumbs, pressing on gently.

3. In a large skillet, heat coconut oil over medium/high heat. Add cutlets. Cook until golden, usually 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Continue cooking with oil and chicken until all chicken cutlets are done. Can add more coconut oil if needed.

4. Pour spaghetti sauce on top of cutlets generously. Sprinkle some Italian seasoning on top of the sauce for some extra flavor. Sprinkle cheeses generously on top. Cook for approximately 20-25 minutes.

5. Can serve over pasta or on its own.

Moist and delicious cinnamon rolls

Ingredient list

4 1/2-5 c. all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 T. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter

Powdered Sugar Glaze:
In a bowl, stir together 1 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon corn syrup, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and enough half & half (1-2 T.) to make of drizzling consistency.
Instructions

In a large mixer bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups of the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the yeast.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk, the 1/3 cup butter, and the 1/3 cup sugar just until warm (120-130 degrees and butter is almost melted. Add to the flour mixture, add eggs. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, then high for 3 minutes, scraping sides. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour (2 1/4-2 3/4 cups) as you can.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball; place in a greased bowl, turning once. Cover, let rise in warm place until double, about 1 hour.

For filling: combine brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and cinnamon. Cut in the remaining 1/2 cup butter till crumbly; set aside.

Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll dough to a 12-inch square.

Sprinkle filling over the dough square; roll up jelly-roll style, pinch edges to seal. Slice roll into eight pieces; arrange in a greased 13×9 inch baking pan.

Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap; let dough rise until nearly double, about 45 minutes.

Brush dough with half & half or light cream. Bake in a 375 oven for 25 minutes or until light brown. Frost with powdered sugar icing. Serve warm.

Braised Beef with BBQ sauce

Ingredient list

1 6-pound brisket

Rub into beef:
1 1/2 tablespoons seasoning salt, pepper, paprika

Marinate beef for 8 hours in:
2 cups oil
2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup Worcestershire
2 bay leaves

Place in covered container over indirect heat for 3 1/2-4 hours, basting with marinade every 30 minutes.

The last hour of cooking, coat both sides of brisket with barbeque sauce. Continue to cook until tender and baste only the top.

Barbecue Sauce:
4 cups catsup
1 cup cider vinegar
2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 medium onion, grated
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoons seasoning salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon pepper

Bring to boil. Remove bay leaf.

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