27 October, 2014

Retrospective - Copyright in Video Games

If you're oblivious to gaming and the strong attraction that a virtual world has on today's people, you will have missed arguably one of the biggest changes in the entertainment landscape since the emergence of the TV. With this great appeal comes great monetary worth, and something which is very desirable to protect, especially on part of the creators of very popular gaming titles. The difficulty in the protectability of video games stems from their complexity and in the fact that most popular games emulate one-another within certain genres of games, making them quite similar to the casual observer. Where does a game's protectability start from and where does it end? This question was answered first when gaming was in its infancy, but still remains quite relevant in today's world of gaming and law.

The case in question was Atari v North American Philips Consumer Electronics, decided by the United States Court of Appeals in 1982. The case dealt with the well-known game Pac-Man, created by Atari and Midway in the sunrise of the 1980s, which sold a staggering (at the time at least) 7 million copies. In the wake of Pac-Man's popularity a similar game, K. C. Munchkin, was created by North American Philips. Due to the incredibly similar styles and mechanics of both games Atari sued North American for copyright infringement, which ultimately was decided by the US Court of Appeals 7th Circuit.

The court initially described the copyrighted work in question, which, to the uninitiated, consists of a maze-like playing area, where the player controls the Pac-Man creature, moving him through the maze collecting pellets and fruits, accumulating points as they go. In addition to this the game contains four characters which pursue the main character, often called ghosts, which try to touch Pac-Man, thus 'killing' the character and having the player lose a life. Pac-Man has the capability to fight back, however, through the consumption of bigger pellets, enabling him to eat the ghosts and thus collect more points and avoid losing lives for a brief period of time. K.C. Munchkin is incredibly similar in its design, with a maze-like playing area, four ghost-type pursuers and the collection of pellets, bigger pellets and fruit. Its board design is slightly different, with the maze being slightly taller, and containing hazard elements such as dead-ends, with a slightly different shaped corral area for the ghosts than in Pac-Man. Finally, K.C. Munchkin contains far less pellets in the playing area, and uses a different style to the look of its main protagonist.

After initial discussion relating to the facts of the case the court turned its attention to the meat of the question; whether a game can be a subject matter protected under copyright, and whether the defendant's work infringed upon that work. The former is a much more straight-forward application of copyright law, yet the test for infringement of that work, if found to be copyrightable, is, as stated by Justice Wood: "...whether the accused work is so similar to the plaintiff's work that an ordinary reasonable person would conclude that the defendant unlawfully appropriated the plaintiff's protectible expression by taking material of substance and value". This test only applies to the parts of that work, which are deemed protected, and not any other included parts, even if infringed.

Even game characters have their issues (Source: The Rut)
As decided in Chamberlin v Uris Sales Corporation: "...copyright protection does not extend to games as such". One has to observe that, even if copyright does not subside in games as such, it still can protect parts of those games, not the 'idea' of a game. At the heart of it, the assessment is an assessment of whether what is sought to be protected is merely an 'idea' or the expression of that idea, which is quite protectable. Should the expression and the idea be nearly indistinguishable from one-another, i.e. it is not possible to express said idea in more ways than one, it is difficult to afford protection for that expression. This was well iterated by Justice Browning in Kalpakian: "[w]hen the "idea" and its "expression" are thus inseparable, copying the "expression" will not be barred, since protecting the "expression" in such circumstances would confer a monopoly of the "idea" upon the copyright owner free of the conditions and limitations imposed by the patent law".

Could you therefore protect the 'idea' of Pac-Man as a game? The court did not see much difficulty in answering this question, quickly determining that the work is mostly not protectable; however its components could very well provide "...new or additional [things] over the idea". How the game is displayed, in graphics and music for example, allows for those particular elements to be protectable, yet the 'idea' of a game where the protagonist is chased in a maze cannot be by itself.

An important point raised by the court in the case are certain elements in the game (or games in general), which can be viewed as scenes a faire, or as explained in Alexander v Haley "...incidents, characters or settings which are as a practical matter indispensable, or at least standard, in the treatment of a given topic". The maze and the score boards can be said to be indispensable to games such as Pac-Man, and arguably others, and thus not protectable. K. C. Munchkin was viewed by the court to have no infringed those designs, and to have been sufficiently different in its expression. What the court saw infringing Pac-Man's copyright was the character design within K. C. Munchkin. They had copied both the protagonist and the antagonist ghosts nearly identically, infringing on Atari's copyright in the expression of those ideas. Even if slight differences still existed, they will not by themselves preclude the finding of infringement. The court ultimately saw that "[a]lthough not "virtually identical" to PAC-MAN, K. C. Munchkin captures the "total concept and feel" of and is substantially similar to PAC-MAN". The court therefore reversed the previous decision and agreed to grant an injunction against K C. Munchkin.

Similar thoughts have been echoed in the UK, illustrated by cases such as Nova Productions Ltd v Mazooma Games Ltd, where the protected subject matter in a game was deemed to be the expression of the idea of a game, and how a game plays was seen as something which can be copied, as long as the visual and audio of that game was not.

What the above case illustrates is the initial considerations of video games as a protectable subject matter under copyright. As technology advances more and more, and games have surely come a long way since Pac-Man, the differentiation of what is copyrightable in a game and what isn't could be said to become more difficult. Even so, this case remains an important landmark in the development of the area, and shows that even dot eating circle creatures can be an expression worth protecting.

21 October, 2014

Tunneling Through the Internet - VPNs and IP Law

Today's Internet users are more savvy and capable than ever before, and many users' desires for "free" content often leads them to find ways through which to attain that content, even if it's potentially skirting the law using a variety of technological means. Although piracy by itself is a hot topic these days, and often misunderstood (the discussion of piracy and theft on this blog here), the discussion revolving around the subject matter can lead to hyperbolic statements or even the misunderstanding of technological means and their legitimate uses in light of online copyright infringement. One such technology is what are called "Virtual Private Networks", or VPNs, which allow you to create a secure connection through a network service to the public Internet at large, masking who you are and where you are through that service. These connections are also often encrypted and secured through a number of ways, which can be used for both legitimate and questionable uses. Even so, whether the use of VPNs is against the law is not exactly clear-cut, and merits some discussion.

Although sometimes stigmatized, much like in a recent statement by the BBC to the Australian government stating that: "...[suspicious] behavior may include the illegitimate use by Internet users of IP obfuscation tools [such as VPNs] in combination with high download volumes", VPNs do serve a legitimate and arguably useful function. Should an individual wish to mask their Internet traffic from potential government surveillance or the monitoring by any other third parties (irrespective of the nature of your activities online), VPNs handle this quite well. Such an example lies just with are friends in Australia, where new laws have been discussed giving certain bodies potentially free roam in the monitoring of Australians' Internet usage. The proposed law has flared up interests in such services, and one can argue that given such broad tools some level of obfuscation can be said to be reasonable, whether you infringe copyright or not online.

But at the heart of this lies the question of legality, and as said above, this is not wholly straightforward. VPNs enable you to view content which is often not available due to licensing issues beyond certain borders, of which a great example is Netflix, which's offerings vary quite drastically depending on where you are. As such you would not imagine, as a paying subscriber, that accessing said content could infringe any laws, especially since you are paying your dues. Yet those licensing agreements are there for a reason, and weaseling your way to see that content can be a moral and legal grey area.

Some networks are probably not worth accessing  
An argument as to the moral side of things was put forth by Simon Haupt, who argued that "[p]aying for the... service means your money goes to whoever holds the [local] rights for the shows on Netflix. If you're watching [for example] the U.S. service, the rights holders... aren't getting their fair share". This can be argued to be slightly misleading, and as proved by Michael Geist, is indeed disingenuous to an extent, as Netflix for example, pays the same amount for the shows it provides no matter how many times or where they are watched from. Although certain licensing issues can be argued, such as if a show is licensed exclusively to a certain company in country A, but people in that country watch it through Netflix from country B, which was not intended due to the exclusivity of that agreement. This could potentially deprive that party of the commercialization of that work, but is still a hard thing to argue, especially against the users themselves.

Under the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 section 296ZA, a company with an exclusive right to the copying or communication to the public of a work has the same rights of enforcement against a person who circumvents, or attempts to do so, any technological means through which said works are protected. Although, at least prima facie, it is quite hard to argue in terms of geo-blocking, one could potentially argue that VPNs and their use in the viewing of restricted content might infringe copyright through section 296ZA. This can be easily countered by the simple fact that it would only apply to the circumvention of exclusion through non-payment of a subscription fee for example, and not so much regional restrictions.

Similar provisions exist elsewhere in the common law as well. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 prescribes under section 116AN that the circumvention of protection measures infringes copyright, potentially including regional locking. The Australian position on whether regional locking is truly a 'technological measure' is still up in the air, but not an entirely impossible inclusion. In the US the old Computer Fraud and Abuse Act protects content from being accessed from non-authorized computers, potentially including geo-blocked content, although no case law has taken that notion on as of yet.

But as one can see the use of VPNs is a true pickle, and has no clear and easy answer as to its legality. Although mounting pressure is being put on the enforcement of regional restrictions on companies such as Netflix, this writer for one highly doubts it will be a legal battle worth waging unless there is a drastic change in the tides of copyright legislation. As for now we're all able to enjoy our forbidden fruit across the pond through services we enjoy and pay for, but be warned: you might experience restrictions on through the companies themselves eventually.

Source: Lawyers Weekly

13 October, 2014

Birds Of A Feather - Twitter and Copyright

Social media has changed how we interact with others, both online and to an extent, in real life, but its impact on creativity and the spreading of such materials is unrivaled, with content that goes 'viral' producing unprecedented revenue figures in recent years. With this in mind, capitalizing on such successes for others seems like an easy opportunity to make some money, and using social media to do so gives us all an avenue where it's both effortless and instantaneous. One such platform is Twitter; something which most people are aware of these days (even this blog has its own Twitter account). For the hopelessly uninitiated, Twitter allows you to share content, be it links, statements or quotes, with relative ease to all of your followers (and their followers, should they choose to share - i.e. retweet - your content), but allows you to only do so within the limit of 140 characters. With such restrictions, and the medium itself considered, would a tweet be enough to merit copyright protection? Furthermore, can you infringe copyright by tweeting someone else's content?

Whether tweets are indeed protected by  copyright is an assessment of whether they can be deemed to be literary works under such regimes. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 in the UK, and other similar laws within the common law, does not set out any word or character limits to what can be deemed as a literary work. Should the tweet itself be original, and admittedly this writer for one has seen his share of funny or interesting tweets over the years, it could be considered a literary work and thus be protected by copyright. Tweeting about pictures or videos one has made does not in itself afford copyright protection to that particular tweet, but the copyright in those standalone works still quite well exists by its own merits. This question does not have a straightforward answer at the end of things, but should your Twitter output be interesting, funny or creative enough, you can rest easy your 140 character gold will most likely be protectable.

Some tweets are less 'original' than others, quite frankly
Copyright infringement on the other hand is a wholly different beast when it comes to Twitter, and as stated above can be something your average tweeter might not think about in the casualness of the medium. Albeit not exactly a tweet, an advertisement in the New York Times used a tweet by A. O. Scott, a film critic of some note, as a form of endorsement (one which was not approved by the critic himself) landed them in a bit of hot water, and prompted a conversation on whether tweets carry copyright protected subject matter. As can be seen above they arguably do, and this instance further enforces that notion. Some estimates have put a worth of several thousands of pounds on a celebrity's tweet, which only goes to show that even without much literary merit, a tweet can still be quite valuable, and therefore, worthy of protection. Using other people's tweets therefore can be an issue, should one do so without proper authorization.

But getting back to your average Twitter user; can you infringe copyright by retweeting someone else's tweet? Should someone post a tweet which infringes copyright, say an unauthorized excerpt from a famous book, containing an integral part of the story, one could potentially infringe copyright by retweeting that same excerpt. Should that part be deemed substantial enough to infringe copyright under the CDPA 1998, a retweet could very well infringe copyright. Again, retweeting and infringing copyright has no clear-cut answer, and given the length of each tweet, infringement would have a much harder time if dealing with more extensive works and excerpts of those works in the twittersphere.

Albeit a very brief consideration, one can see above that Twitter does provide us with an interesting sphere in which copyright resides. Most users of Twitter are incredibly casual with the medium, and although it will probably not cause any major issues for most copyright holders, some frequently more hilarious tweeters might want to be on their toes when they hear the birds chirping.

04 October, 2014

Cigarette Smoke and Olive Green - Australian Plain Packaging Law Challenged

Cigarettes and smoking have always been a controversial topic, especially in the last few decades. From misconceptions as to cigarettes' health benefits in the early-to-mid 1900s, to a more modern understanding, the topic often polarizes both sides of the discussion regardless if you smoke or not. Whether it is purely a deterrent ideology or a perspective from which you want to enforce and strengthen individual responsibility, smoking really has no answer for either side. A gallant effort at the reduction of smoking, especially in younger individuals, with nearly a third of 16 year olds having had at least tried smoking, is the plain packaging initiative, which has been either debated or even started in some countries in the last few years. One of these countries, Australia, instated their plain packaging laws, the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, some few years ago, showcasing a 15% drop in smoking rates between the Act's introduction and the year 2013.

The Act's life, albeit right now in its infancy still, has not been an easy one, and the Act has since been challenged at the WTO by several countries. The dispute, dubbed "Certain Measures Concerning Trademarks and Other Plain Packaging Requirements Applicable to Tobacco Products and Packaging" essentially deals with potential damage to the tobacco industry in Australia as a result of the Act, or as put forth in the complaint by the Ukraine: "...erode[s] the protection of intellectual property rights [and] impose severe restrictions on the use of validly registered trademarks". Arguably the Act does just that, but under proper justification; the denial of trademark usage can be balanced with a public interest health wise. This was countered by the Ukraine: "...[it] considers that governments should pursue legitimate health policies through effective measures without unnecessarily restricting international trade and without nullifying intellectual property rights as guaranteed by international trade and investment rules". What the Act does is not nullify the rights guaranteed by the Australian Trade Marks Act 1995, but skirts the law by preventing those marks' use. The marks themselves are still quite valid, just not usable in all instances.

When does 'plain' become 'too plain'?
Australia has protected its plain packaging law by stating that "...[it] is a sound, well-considered measure designed to achieve a legitimate objective — the protection of public health... nor is [it] more restrictive than necessary to fulfill its legitimate objective". Arguably, as said above, this is very true, yet the Ukraine does have a point in its argument, at least in relation to tobacco products. Trademarks, especially those relating to tobacco packaging (for example Marlboro and Camel), are quite valuable as they are predominantly how the products are distinguished among a myriad of similar of even identical flavors (as a non-smoker, this writer has no knowledge whether this holds true or not, so please correct me if I am wrong here). As such, rendering them useless in the sphere where they are used strips them of their usability and does impede on their use; however one has to still emphasize the public health concerns which underpin the legislation. Trademarks are a badge of origin relating to quality, authenticity and expertise, yet most tobacco products cause the same health issues regardless of origin or manufacturer, rendering the badge of origin quite useless in the face of health concerns or causation.

The legality, and the purpose behind the Act, was further defended by the High Court of Australia in JT International SA v Commonwealth of Australia, where the Court stated that "There are and always have been purposive elements reflecting public policy considerations which inform the statutory creation of intellectual property rights... [and] Australian trade marks law has 'manifested from time to time a varying accommodation of commercial and the consuming public's interests'". This varying accommodation is just that; the promotion of legitimate rights, but still keeping them in balance with public interests. Health considerations are one of the bigger interests in the public sphere, and are worth defending, even at the detriment to some commercial interests.

Do trademarks then confer a non-restrictable ability to use them? Arguably no, and this was supported by Justice Grummow in the JT International case: "...the TMA, like other trade mark legislation, does not confer on registered owners or authorised users a liberty to use registered trade marks free from restraints found in other statutes". This can be stated to be correct, but a balance still needs to be struck in the event of new legislation that might or might not impede intellectual property rights.

What the decision does, however, is establish a precedent which can be used for or against future plain packaging laws, such as in Ireland or France. The outcome of the WTO panel decision has yet to emerge, but the possible resolution of the dispute seems to lean towards Australia and the TPPA. As explained by Tania Voon and Andrew Mitchell: "...the law applies equally to all tobacco products from all countries, including Australia and New Zealand. The law is also based on years of research showing that standardised packaging will reduce the appeal of tobacco products and enhance the effectiveness of health warnings. Finally, the law implements Australia’s obligations under the WHO FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control). All these factors enhance Australia’s position in the WTO dispute". Should Australia lose the dispute, the fate of the TPPA would be suspect, and potentially would have to be repealed entirely, setting a precedent to other countries which are a part of the WTO.

This writer for one is intrigued by the prospects of this challenge, but believes that the TPPA will triumph and plain packaging will become more prevalent in the coming years. Its impact on trademarks will be negligible, bar the tobacco industry, which will have to revamp its approach to marketing. Maybe one day we will all reminisce the fancy cigarette packages of yore, or just recoil at the thought of smoking altogether.

Source: The Guardian

28 September, 2014

Chuckles or No - European Court of Justice Takes on Parody

European fair dealing is ever so slowly growing into its big boy shoes, and amidst that growth there are some growing pains that need to be sorted out by the guardians, the judiciary. With new fair dealing exceptions only days away from coming into force here in the United Kingdom, it seems only pertinent that the most influential court in Europe deals with an issue that is so close to this new set of fair dealing exceptions; parody and satire. Although the UK's cousins across the pond in the United States and Australia have accepted parody as a form of fair dealing or use prior to the old Kingdom, the UK will face challenges to this new regime in the coming years - for which European consideration is always welcome.

The case in question is Deckmyn v Vandersteen , decided only a few weeks ago, which dealt with a drawing relating to a recent election in Belgium, which was released in a calendar edited by Mr. Deckmyn, who is also a member of the Vlaams Belang party. During an event Mr. Deckmyn handed out the aforementioned calendars, on the cover of which was the picture at issue in the matter; an image which highly resembled that of the book "De Wilde Weldoener", an edition of the famed Suske en Wiske comic books. As explained by the court: "...[the] drawing is a representation of one of the comic book’s main characters wearing a white tunic and throwing coins to people who are trying to pick them up. In the drawing at issue, that character was replaced by the Mayor of the City of Ghent and the people picking up the coins were replaced by people wearing veils and people of colour". Subsequently the Vanderseteens, relatives of the comics' creator and holders of the copyright, among others, brought an action against Mr. Deckmyn asserting copyright infringement.

Under the Belgian Law on Copyright and Neighboring Rights, a copyright protected work is not infringed "[o]nce a work has been lawfully published, its author may not prohibit... caricature, parody and pastiche, observing fair practice". Mr. Deckmyn argued that his use of the comic's cover would be protected from infringement as a fair use under parody, yet the questions posed to the ECJ were:

"1. Is the concept of “parody” an autonomous concept of EU law? 
 2. If so, must a parody satisfy the following conditions or conform to the following characteristics: display an original character of its own (originality); 
display that character in such a manner that the parody cannot reasonably be ascribed to the author of the original work; 
seek to be humorous or to mock, regardless of whether any criticism thereby expressed applies to the original work or to something or someone else; 
mention the source of the parodied work? 
3. Must a work satisfy any other conditions or conform to other characteristics in order to be capable of being labelled as a parody?

The ECJ was faced with the definition of what amounts to parody, and whether this concept was truly autonomous within the EU law, more specifically Directive 2001/29.

The court quickly established that the concept of 'pardy' was indeed an autonomous concept in European law, as the Directive made no express mention of any national laws, giving the law a uniform interpretation within the Union, although Member States as still very much able to limit or extend the exception beyond its Union interpretation.

The second and third questions took the bulk of the ECJ's judgment, effectively determining the definition of a parody in European law. The court first established that, as the term is not defined in the Directive, that its interpretation would be "...determined by considering its usual meaning in everyday language, while also taking into account the context in which it occurs and the purposes of the rules of which it is part". This in the court's judgment, while agreeing with the Attorney General's definition, is "...first, to evoke an existing work while being noticeably different from it, and, secondly, to constitute an expression of humour or mockery". This writer would like to further add that, in most cases, national courts would also assess whether the parody itself, or the mockery or humor, is actually a genuine expression of mockery, rather than just a guise to prevent the courts from finding infringement.

Parodies can evoke a multitude of feelings
The court then assessed the conditions posed in the reference to the ECJ and whether they should be treated as a part of the exception in its application. As the provision is there to safeguard legitimate uses of copyrighted content, the court heavily empathizes that its scope "...of that provision... [should not be] restricted by conditions... which emerge neither from the usual meaning of ‘parody’ in everyday language nor from the wording of that provision". A much less restricted interpretation facilitates both the freedom of expression and a public interest in legitimate parody, as noted by the court.

The exceptions application has to be balanced, even in the light of its much less restricted interpretation, as noted by the court: "...the exception for parody... must strike a fair balance between, on the one hand, the interests and rights of persons... and, on the other, the freedom of expression of the user of a protected work who is relying on the exception for parody". This assessment has to take into account all circumstances in each instance, and should not be a mere prima facie 50/50 assessment.

The ECJ then relayed the final decision to the Belgian national courts, but did however express a need to assess the work on potential racial impacts, and negative connotations on such ground, as the work did indeed depict individuals of certain ethnic background in a very compromising light.

The UK government has already issued some guidance on the new exceptions coming into force next Wednesday, which helps in the future assessment of parody in this new regime. In their definition: "[t]he words “caricature, parody or pastiche” have their ordinary dictionary meanings. In broad terms, parody imitates a work for humorous or satirical effect, commenting on the original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target. Pastiche is a musical or other composition made up of selections from various sources or one that imitates the style of another artist or period. A caricature portrays its subject in a simplified or exaggerated way, which may be insulting or complimentary and may serve a political purpose or be solely for entertainment". Yet again this writer would have to point out that the use of a work under such a definition would still entail an assessment of whether the parody, pastiche or satire is well and truly such a work, and not just a faint attempt at parody purely to use the work at no cost.

All-in-all the ECJ's definition makes sense, at least to this humble writer, and does afford genuine parodies a wide shield in protecting their legitimate expression. Should conditions be set on the application of parody, such as in Belgium, the hurdles could become nearly insurmountable, and curb any real interest or willingness to create parody works. How the UK courts will apply this new exception remains to be seen; however the ECJ's considerations will undoubtedly serve as a great starting point.

Source: The 1709 Blog

19 September, 2014

Can You Own a Recipe? When Food Meets Intellectual Property Law

Food is quite important to all of us, and not just because of its nourishing quality and necessity for life, but also for the sheer enjoyment of a dish which has been prepared with care and love. This writer for one will freely admit that he loves to both cook and eat (often the latter more than the former), which prompted me with a thought in the process of seeking out recipes to make: can you own a recipe, or if anything, are recipes protectable under intellectual property law? Upon initial thinking the question seems to beg an answer, since recipes are undeniably creations of great creative efforts, planning, knowledge and skill, which, prima facie at least, should afford it some level of protection. This aside, food is ubiquitous to all cultures, peoples, and as said above, a necessity, which would render their protection draconian or even preventative of the enjoyment of cultural aspects for the larger masses should recipes be isolated to only a select few. The question indeed deserves an answer, and I shall endeavor to do so below, separating the matter into each type of intellectual property.

Recipes and Copyright

Often people's first memories of recipes is a dusty old tome which their grandparents have kept and compiled over the years, containing family recipes and secrets from generations ago. Whether it is Gordon Ramsay or your lovely grandma, recipes take effort and skill to create and compile, being put into tangible form either on paper or online. Under the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and similarly its US, Australian and Canadian counterparts, copyright protection is afforded to original literary works; however this protection is given to the expression of those literary ideas, not the ideas themselves (expanded more on this very blog here and here). Recipes, therefore, potentially could be protected under copyright should they be expressed in a very specific or original manner; however the ideas of the recipes themselves (for example the concept of a pancake) cannot be protected by copyright.

Some recipes are more 'original' than others
This was specifically discussed by the Australian IPO (link leads to an external PDF file), which this writer thinks is an accurate representation of the laws' applicability in most common law countries: "[t]he owner of copyright in a recipe has certain limited rights to control the manner in which their written recipe is used. This does not include, for example, preventing people from making the dish, or from writing their own descriptions of how to make it". To expand on this, the individual or entity can protect their recipe to an extent, but cannot prevent others from making that particular dish or writing down their version of the recipe. As expression is protected, and not ideas, mere techniques, information on ingredients or methods or the 'idea' of an overall recipe cannot be protected.

Copyright leaves recipes quite exposed, but does offer some level of protection should someone try to use your recipe which has been published in a book or in another protectable form. However should they want to publish their own version or efforts, even writing down a specific recipe in their own words after following someone cooking it, they are free to do so.

Recipes and Trademarks

The names of dishes can be quite valuable, especially if they gain a high level of traction. A famous dish can be highly desirable to protect in name, and under the UK Trade Marks Act 1994 (and similarly under its American, Australian and Canadian counterparts) a sign, an indicator of a goods' origin, can be protected, which easily encompasses the names of dishes or recipes. A recent example of this is the fabled Cronut, a mixture between a croissant and a donut, which became seemingly huge overnight. Arguably the recipe for a Cronut can be very valuable, and many have shared their takes on the item, but what truly brings protectability to the doughy foodstuff is its name - something its creator trademarked promptly. As illustrated above the idea of a Cronut is not protectable as is, but the name does prevent others from selling the item under the recognizable moniker, which is very often more valuable than attempting to prevent the use of a recipe. 

This is not to say protecting a dish or a recipe can result in a positive outcome. Last year a Vietnamese restaurant in London faced some backlash after it asserted its trademark on the dish "Pho", albeit used in the restaurant's name rather than as a means to protect a specific recipe. Whether it is a food related name or a distinct recipe with an elaborate or distinct name, trademarks do serve as a great tool to protect recipes, yet are limited to only truly distinct cases, as one cannot simply just trademark a common recipe or dish.

Recipes and Patents

The more interesting choice of the three was an option this writer had never even considered; patenting a recipe. More often than not patents protect inventions, which encompasses a very wide array of things, but one would never think of a recipe as an 'invention' no matter how inventive the approach can be. Nevertheless, this is still quite possible, although any aspiring food patent seeker will be fighting an uphill battle at best.

Intricate methods of cooking often lead to mixed results
Under the UK Patents Act 1977 for an invention to be patentable it has to fulfill certain criteria: it has to be something new; involve an inventive step; and be capable of industrial application. On the face of things a recipe could be exactly that, and fall under each category; however one can imagine this would pertain more to an industrial recipe, rather than a single kitchen in a single restaurant. A good example of a food related patent is Cadbury's patent for chocolate that doesn't melt (and for the sake of balance Nestle's equivalent is here). The recipe clearly calls for a specific method of creation, a way to make the recipe, rather than the recipe itself. Chocolate is way too common for it to be afforded patent protection, but a novel way to produce chocolate could easily be patented if it falls under all of the requirements. For a great in depth look at the matter in the US, please do read Gene Quinn's article, which covers recipe patents under US law very comprehensively.

Patents are a tougher sell as a method for protecting recipes, but are still quite viable and an option should you dish be created in a very unconventional, new way, and possibly include a more industrial approach rather than one which relates to looks or flavor alone. It won't protect the recipe per say, but it will protect the method through which that recipe is produced.


In short, can you own a recipe? Yes and no. To own a recipe in its most truest sense, it seems nearly impossible under current intellectual property laws, and rightfully so, since no nation would want to deprive its citizens of the multifaceted world that is the culinary world. One can easily own an aspect or two to a recipe, for example its name or a specific structure if it entails a strict layering process for example, or even a printed recipe, but the limits the law imposes on those rights are very strict and nuanced. Being able to buy a lasagna outside of a certain restaurant in Italy is truly a blessing for us all, and we can take that availability for granted.

A message to all aspiring chefs and current culinary professionals: focus on the quality of your product rather than its protectability under intellectual property law.

14 September, 2014

The Intellectual Property Act 2014 - Thoughts

After a myriad of changes in recent years, more specifically in copyright (more on which on this very blog can be found here, here, here and here), one can seem overwhelmed by the constant updates and tweaking intellectual property law has gone through. Just as things have seemed to settle down new changes have to be discussed, although this writer will wholly admit he is a bit late to the punch on this one (as the law was passed over a month ago). Nevertheless, a new piece of legislation has been passed, the Intellectual Property Act 2014, which is coming into force in a matter of weeks, prompting this writer to expand on its potential impact prior to it becoming solid law. The Act focuses on designs and patents, which shall be discussed separately below.


By far the bulk of the legislation, designs have been needing some revamping and adding to, even though they are quite well protected under the current Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and the Registered Designs Act 1949. As explained by the UK IPO: "Design law is often considered messy, complex and confusing, and small businesses, who don’t have the time or resources to disentangle it, can lose out. The IP Act will introduce a number of new measures and make some changes to the law in order to make design law simpler, clearer and more robust".

In terms of unregistered designs the Act changes the definition of a design from (in the CDPA 1988) "...the design of any aspect of the shape or configuration (whether internal or external) of the whole or part of an article" to one which omits the phrase '...any aspect of'. Although a seemingly minute change, the law now reflects in a more concrete fashion what is considered a design and what isn't as a part of the legislation, whereas should you leave the phrase in it makes things a bit more ambiguous. This clearly reflects the legislature's attempt at making things more straightforward, and arguably they have done so, at least on the face of things.

The Act also changes the default ownership of an unregistered design, allowing for the designer to be the owner of their design should it not be made in the course of their employment. The Act omits the phrase "...in pursuance of a commission or" from the previous provision in the CDPA 1988, which clearly gave ownership to those who commissioned the work, even if rights were not intended to be conferred upon the creation of a design. This will undoubtedly lower any confusion or potential issues of ownership, though does lower the protection of the individuals or entities which commission a work unless specifically assigned to them as a part of the commission contract. Ownership is also extended to persons who reside in the European Union (i.e. a qualifying country) at large, or conduct business in the Union regularly. Previously this was much more narrow under the CDPA 1988.

Finally, in relation to unregistered designs, the Act creates exceptions for infringement of a design right for private acts, experimentation and teaching, and over ships and aircraft. This exception is more relevant to the new form of infringement, which was created to protect registered designs.

Nothing gets a designer's creative juices flowing like new legislation
All of the above changes largely apply to registered designs as well, with some minor differences; however the most important, and discussion inducing, change has been the addition of the aforementioned infringement of registered design rights. Should a person or a business copy a design (without the consent of the rights' holder), doing so intentionally and with knowledge or have reason to believe the design is registered, they can be held liable for infringement. The offense also extends to businesses selling, importing, exporting, or uses items which they know or have reason to believe have copied a registered design. Prima facie the offenses seem quite broad, and with a defense of only reasonable belief to the items' registration status, can be potentially quite wide-reaching, especially in relation to businesses selling or exporting goods. An infringer can face up to ten years' imprisonment and/or a fine. This can be said to be a welcomed change, in that designs have lacked a proper offense provision, which trademarks and copyright have had for years.

In the light of the new offense the Act does allow for third parties to use registered designs, should they have done so in good faith and prior to the work's registration. This is assessed under the light of proper measures taken to ensure the design is or was free to use, preventing others from using this provision as merely a guise to protect themselves from infringement.

Finally, the Act allows for design registrants to finally apply for one single design registration within the remit of the Hague Convention registration system, streamlining and enabling quicker, more efficient registration of designs in a more international scale. 


The Act makes minor, yet important changes to the current patent regime, explained by the UK IPO in better terms: "The IP Act will introduce a number of changes to patent law, which simplify complex areas and make it cheaper and easier to use and defend patents. This will be beneficial for both patent holders and third parties"

The IP Act also adds a provision which will add specific powers allowing for the inclusion of the Unified Patent Court as a part of the patent protection scheme in the UK. This will allow for a much quicker, more unified approach to processing any claims of patent infringement, as it spans the entire 25 Member States of the EU in the scheme. In addition to the Unified Patent Court the Act also allows for the sharing of unpublished patent applications with other patent offices through the UK IPO, which would allow for potential issues to be processed quicker and unclog the international system more. 


Overall the IP Act makes some welcome changes, and at least attempts to internationalize and streamline both patents and designs; something which has been, at least on the patent regime, long needed. Whether the new design infringement provision will cause issues will remain to be seen; however this writer for one believes it will strengthen the registered design scheme and potentially deter cases where infringement would be obvious. The Act will come into force in October, giving relevant parties enough time to prepare for any changes that affect them.

Source: Eversheds