Intellectual property rights in the food industry

Intellectual property (IP) plays a crucial role in the food and drink sector. From KFC’s closely guarded secret recipe to the unmistakable golden arches of McDonald’s iconic logo. IP helps food and drink businesses protect their business and assets from being used by competitors.

From valuable trade secrets that give you a competitive advantage to registered trademarks that protect logos and slogans, there are different types of intellectual property rights in the food industry that you need to be familiar with. Below, we explain what they are and what’s involved in protecting your business.

Potter Clarkson - intellectual property rights in the food industryIn our recent webinar, food industry specialists Charlotte Crowhurst and Sarah Talland from leading intellectual property law firm Potter Clarkson delved into the intricate world of protecting IP within the food and drink sector.

The value of Intellectual Property

IP rights are essential for protecting your brand and innovations. They’re the secret ingredients that make your brand unique and valuable. Whether it’s a special blend of flavours or a catchy slogan, your IP sets you apart from the competition. A solid IP strategy is important for food and drink businesses to help you achieve your commercial goals. Without proper protection, your hard work could easily be copied or imitated, representing a serious risk for your business.

Why Intellectual Property matters

It might seem like a significant investment, especially for startups, but getting it right from the start will likely save you time and money in the long run. Failing to do so could lead to even more costly consequences, such as withdrawing your product from the market or becoming entangled in legal disputes with competitors. Establishing the correct protection for your invention(s) can help you establish a unique selling point, whether it is a particular benefit of your product, such as a nutritional benefit. All this creates value in your business.

Take Innocent Smoothies, for example – they developed a great brand with an image for healthy drinks that caught the eye of industry giant Coca-Cola. In the competitive world of SMEs, having a well-thought-out IP strategy can be essential to help secure investment and unlock new growth opportunities.

What types of IP are there?

Understanding the different types of intellectual property and where they’re applicable is crucial for any food and drink business.

  • Copyright – Original artistic or creative works associated with food and drink products, such as packaging designs, advertising materials, and cookbooks, can be protected by copyright. This prevents others from copying or reproducing these works without permission.
  • Designs – This is very much about how the product looks – it can be the shape and style of the packaging, such as the iconic contour of the Coca-Cola bottle, or even the product itself, such as Lindt’s distinctive chocolate bunny design.
  • Registered Trademark – Businesses can protect their brand names, logos, and slogans through trademarks. This prevents others from using similar marks that could confuse consumers. For example, Coca-Cola® is a trademarked brand name.
  • Patents – Innovative food or drink products or processes may be eligible for patent protection. This could include new methods of food preparation, unique food packaging designs, or novel food ingredients. Examples include products with a technical effect, such as chocolate with different melting characteristics, e.g., for sale in hot climates.
  • Trade secrets – These are often a slightly forgotten form of intellectual property but are valuable in the food industry. If you want to keep an aspect of your product – or how to make it – secret, you must have specific procedures in place. For instance, nobody knows what goes into KFC’s secret blend of 11 herbs and spices.

How to protect your brand

In a landscape fraught with imitation and infringement, protecting your assets against IP threats is non-negotiable. Whether pre-emptively safeguarding your creations or navigating potential disputes, a proactive approach to IP protection is essential for long-term success.

For a comprehensive overview of trade secrets, trademark protection, and common intellectual property rights in the food industry, watch the webinar.