Lawsuit asks whether recipes can be considered a trade secret

Update: For an interesting perspective on intellectual property as it applies to recipes, check out this story. It originates in Singapore, so the laws naturally are not the same as in the U.S., but the philosophies at work are probably similar.

It has been a while since we have brought Naples readers a story about trade secrets. A trade secret is business information, such as a formula or process, that is kept confidential to maintain an advantage over one’s competitors. To be protected as a trade secret, the information must be subject to reasonable efforts to preserve its secrecy and it must obtain some sort of economic advantage from not being widely known.

Recently, a bakery in Chicago sued its former chef for allegedly taking two binders full of recipes when he left. The bakery claims that the recipes are trade secrets.

So, what do you think? Could recipes be trade secrets?

First, in order for the recipes to be considered trade secrets, the bakery must have tried to keep them secret. The bakery owner has said she spent 3.5 years creating the recipes and reproduced them only in one place; the binders that the former chef allegedly stole. So, the recipes probably meet part one of the two-part trade secret test.

The next part might be a little more difficult. The bakery owner claims that her recipes are not widely known and that because of this, her bakery earns an economic advantage because people want her baked goods instead of someone else’s. That could be debatable; even if her recipe for, say, coffee cake is famous, how different could it really be from other types of coffee cake recipes? And it may be difficult to prove that people came to her bakery for the food alone, as opposed to another reason like its convenient location.

The case has only just begun, so we do not yet know the outcome. If we learn the conclusion, we will update this blog with the court’s finding.

Source: Reuters, “IL Chef Sues Over Bakery’s Missing Recipes,” Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. April 18, 2012