In The Mix
How can you protect your secret recipe?
Business Start-Ups magazine, February 1999
Q: My brother and I came up with a few awesome recipes for drink mixes that we think are delicious enough to market and make into a business. What should we do to protect the recipes?
A: It's hard to get a patent for a recipe, but it can be done. To be given a patent, a recipe must be significantly different from other drink mixes on the market.
If it's just a matter of using a little less lemon, say, and a little more vermouth, the recipe probably isn't patentable, says David Pressman, author of Patent It Yourself (Nolo Press, $38.21, 800-992-6656), a do-it-yourself guide for inventors that takes you from initial protection through commercial and patentability evaluations, patent application preparation, marketing and licensing. "[The recipe] has to be unobvious," says Pressman, "which means [it] has to be substantially different from what is already known."
If your recipe isn't individual enough to be patentable, you can still protect your recipe by keeping it a trade secret. Trade secrets benefit a business commercially and are not known to anyone outside the business. To protect your trade secret, keep the number of employees and others who know it to a minimum.
Whether you get a patent or not, it's a good idea to protect your product name by registering for a trademark. Trademark rights can be used to prevent others from using a similar mark on their products, but they do not prevent others from making the same goods or selling the same goods under another mark. According to Pressman, you can obtain limited trademark protection by simply putting the superscript "TM" symbol after your product name or logo and relying on your common-law rights, but he suggests also registering your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).
For more information on applying for patents and trademarks, contact the PTO at (800) PTO-9199 or http://www.uspto.gov.
David Pressman, firstname.lastname@example.org