Innovation in the absence of copyright protection

“Who Owns the Korean Taco?”.  This story isn’t agriculture but it is food, and it illustrates an interesting dynamic with regards to innovation in the absence of copyright protection.    

Whilst using the example of a lucrative innovation in the LA fast food industry, the authors point out that “recipes are unprotected by copyright, and so anyone can copy another’s recipe” and they therefore ask:

“Why do chefs continue to invent new dishes when others are free to copy them?”

Why indeed?  They go on to note:

 “…the conventional wisdom says that in a system like this no one should innovate. Copyright’s raison d’etre is to promote creativity by protecting creators from pirates. But in the food world, pirates are everywhere. By this logic, we ought to be consigned to uninspired and traditional food choices…but the real world does not follow this logic. In fact, we live in a golden age of cuisine”

What I find interesting is in the absence of a formal system, an informal norm steps in to help regulation.  In addition, as we have often talked about in our work, the creation of added value is what differentiates products in an otherwise unprotected market; i.e. the building of brand.  The authors outline what they see as the reasons why chefs are not deterred from innovation despite lack of formal protection:

“…There is no such thing as an exact copy of a dish. Indeed, the same restaurant will turn out differing versions of a signature recipe depending on who’s behind the stove…Copies are inherently imperfect.

Second, food is enjoyed in a context…we are purchasing more than just the cuisine: the ambience, the scene, the service and so forth all combine to make the experience. Copies of a dish, no matter how good, cannot reproduce that overall bundle of goods. (And the law of “trade dress,” a version of trademark, protects the distinctive appearance of a restaurant’s décor.)…

Third, chefs, particularly at the high-end, appear to have certain norms about what kinds of copies are acceptable. In a fascinating paper, two professors looked at top chefs in Paris. They found that a system of social norms existed that constrained copying and enforced rules about attribution.”

Examples such as these are useful for us to take into consideration when exploring innovation in a non/under-protected environment.  (Fast) food for thought!

(Thanks to Victoria Henson-Apollonio for sending me the link.)

The article refs a related story on the fashion industry which we blogged a while back.  “Necessary piracy?

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One response to “Innovation in the absence of copyright protection

  1. Pingback: The Changing Styles of Intellectual Property | the CAS-IP blog

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