Intellectual Property On The Bar

It’s an issues that has haunted bartenders for several weeks if not centuries: no matter how much innovation you put into crafting an amazing new cocktail, you cannot patent, trademark or copyright your recipe.

With that much generally understood at Tales of the Cocktails’ “Intellectual Property 2” semiar, the question became how to protect your great ideas.


1. You can patent a process or an invention used in creating cocktails (note to self: patent “shotgun beer can” design). Patents are only granted if your idea is new, useful and not an obvious improvement. You will also need a good lawyer, $5000-20000 and 2-4 years.

2. Trademarks can be had for a name, logo, or phrase, functioning as an identifier of source of product or service (so I will not be inviting you to my new SF tiki bar, Smuggler’s Cave) to prevent consumer confusion and maintain control quality. There is another related term, the penumbra of protection meaning that you can have an umbrella of related products, images, sounds and meanings under one trademark.

3. Copyright happens by default upon creation when you write, draw, photograph, etc., but to claim damages, you must register your creation. It costs $35 but you can do it yourself.

Note: when a work is made for hire (ie. when I photograph a corporate event as a freelancer on contract), copyright goes to the creator (me), unless the creator is an actual employee, in which case, it goes to the employer.

So, back to that amazing cocktail recipe that you created and want to be available only at your bar… well, there is still nothing you can do to prevent people from taking your recipe, other than keeping it a secret. In fact, the team leading the IP seminar recommended that bar owners have nondisclosure agreements, and not show employees their trade secrets.

On the other hand, a number of great cocktail recipes – like the original formula for pisco punch – have been lost this way, with only the owner knowing the exact recipe and mis-labeling or pre-mixing ingredients while locked in the back room, and really if your recipe is that amazing, won’t the world be a better place if you just share it freely?

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