Although not an avid soap watcher (honest), when she who controls the TV remote switched to Coronation Street recently, I was delighted to discover an intellectual property sub-plot in the nations favourite soap.
It seems the late Rovers Return barmaid Betty bequeathed her special hotpot recipe to her former colleague Sean. However his boss Stella is claiming the recipe is her intellectual property as owner of the bar where Betty worked. And while it may be unlikely to win any soap awards this year for most exciting plot, it does raise some interesting IP issues.
So what IP rights will protect the recipe? It is unlikely a recipe could be patentable, although it is theoretically possible if the process of making the dish involved sufficient novel and non-obvious elements. Copyright could arguably protect the written recipe to the extent that someone else reproducing it exactly in a recipe book might be guilty of infringement. However it is unlikely that merely using a recipe to prepare a dish will itself be considered an act of copyright infringement.
The most likely protection available for a recipe would be as a trade secret, as with the recipe for Coca Cola or closer to home, Barr’s Irn Bru.
In terms of ownership, the normal rule is that the employer will own any IP created by an employee during the course of his or her employment. So if Betty developed the recipe as part of her job then Stella’s argument is likely to prevail. However if Betty had already created this recipe or developed it beyond the scope of her employment then arguably she would retain ownership of the IP and has simply licensed it to her employers to use.
Not being regular viewer I am not sure how this particular plot has been resolved. But perhaps this will herald a new era of intellectual property disputes being seen as fertile ground for soap opera plots? Ok maybe not, but if Eastenders ever have a trade mark infringement plot regarding rights to the Queen Vic name then you heard it here first...