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Restaurant Laws -Patents And Trade Secrets

Ordinarily, before a business can achieve a market edge, something must distinguish
it from other businesses in the same general category. Of course,
you will want to protect that something that sets your restaurant apart, so that
others cannot exploit its uniqueness. Several bodies of law may help you obtain
this protection. The copyright law grants, in a tangible form, the right  to
prevent others from copying an original work to the author of that work.
Copyright protection is not granted to items of utility. If your restaurant’s
interior decorator commissions a decorative carved brick or block for use in
an archway, no matter how beautiful, creative, original, or well-executed, that
brick is not likely to be protected under the copyright laws of the United
States. Patent laws, which allow an inventor the right to prevent others from
exploiting a patented invention, do cover utilitarian objects.

Decorative utilitarian objects may be granted protection under the design
patent laws. For example, the design of a particular sofa or chair may be granted
a design patent, though only the aesthetic and not the utilitarian features are
protected. A so-called mechanical or utility patent, the one with which you are
probably most familiar, may be obtained for any new and useful process or
product that is a substantial technological innovation. Unfortunately, patents
are quite costly and difficult to obtain. It often takes an inordinate period of
time for the patent document to be issued, and the period of protection is comparatively
short (only twenty years from the date of application). Despite this
fact, many food-based businesses have been successful in exploiting their
patented innovations. For example, spiral slicing around the bone of Honey-
Baked Ham enjoyed a market edge during the period when the process was
under patent protection.

Generally speaking, each country administers its own patent system. The business
person who wishes to obtain a patent in a foreign country must file for a
patent in that country. One exception to this general rule is the European patent
regime. A European patent application, which is filed at the European Patent Office
in Munich, can designate almost any country in Europe. Once a European patent
is obtained, the patent can be translated into the language of any other designated
European country. By filing it in that country, the European patent may be registered
in that country without going through another examination process. The
official languages of the European Patent Office include English, so Americans
can prosecute their patents in the English language.

Another form of protection, known as trade secret law, allows exploitation of a
particular innovation and may afford even greater protection than the copyright
or patent laws. A trade secret may loosely be defined as anything that has not
been revealed and could give you a competitive advantage. The secret should
cover something that you actually use in your hospitality business and that you
take some reasonable steps to protect. A trade secret may be lost if the owner
any time before the patent is issued without jeopardizing trade secret protection.
In order to determine which of these methods of protection should be elected,
you should consult an attorney or patent agent who specializes in intellectual



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