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Is There Intellectual Property in Food?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The rise of the celebrity chef has put food high up on Britain’s entertainment menu and the attention foisted upon restaurant culture has brought immeasurable improvements to the UK’s dining out experience.

The UK was once lambasted for its poor service, limited menus and terrible restaurant food but even the most grudging of foodie tourists now acknowledge the variety and quality on offer.

Although we do now have a vibrant food culture here in the UK, when it comes taking food seriously we probably still trail behind our neighbours across the Channel. Two French chefs have demonstrated just how seriously they view their culinary creations by trying to ban diners from taking photos of food ordered in their restaurants.

Banning Photographs to Protect Food Creativity

According to reports, two Michelin-starred chefs, Gilles Goujon from Fontjoncouse, and Alexandre Gauthier from La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil have sought to stop diners from photographing their food in their restaurants. Although photography is not strictly banned in their restaurants for obvious reasons, the chef’s actions raise some interesting questions.

Gilles Goujon is quoted as saying in justification that posting pictures of his food on social networks, “takes away the surprise, and a little bit of my intellectual property”.

That diners and more particularly food critics might wish to use their smart phones to do this is certainly understandable. So too though is the stance of the chefs. The proliferation of smart phones and the internet have created many of these types of conflicts but whether in fact there is an intellectual property issue at work in this case is a novel point.

Intellectual Property in Food

The simple answer to the title question is most certainly yes. Trademarks are the most obvious form of intellectual property used in the food business; think Coke or Mars Bars but copyright, patents and design rights can also be important forms of protection in the food industry.

Copyright is most pertinent to things such as recipe books but it can also protect other artistic works. In respect of food itself, that might relate to food preparation techniques or the style of particular food creations. Even considering these simple examples it is apparent that this is complex area.

Patents are also increasingly being used in the food industry to protect things such as production processes, the composition of certain types of food and food packaging.

Comment

The actions of the two French chefs appear more a request for courtesy to preserve the mystique of their restaurant experience than a genuine attempt at protecting their intellectual property rights. However, a genuine motivation to do so could potentially rely on a number of avenues under intellectual property laws.

For specialist advice contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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