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Old 05-11-2011, 04:14 PM   #1
Jan 2010
Hudson, WI
Posts: 107

I was thinking the other day about the legality of using a similar recipe (clone recipe) as your own. Do breweries copyright their recipes?

With a fairly structured style guideline for each beer, wouldn't it be possible for a brewer to stumble upon a already created recipe by chance? I would think that with the amount of new craft breweries opening that there has to be some overlapping beers taste/style wise. What would stop a brewer from taking a well established recipe (we'll use Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for argument sake) and changing a few things and calling it their own?

Obviously as homebrewers, we strive to make the best beer possible. I read a lot of threads of people wanting to brew their favorite beer. There are many clone recipes out there, but this is not technically the same recipe as the original brewer (unless the brewer releases their recipe) So what would stop me from brewing a clone recipe and releasing it under a different brand/label.

Not that I am considering doing this, I am just curious as to how this would play out.

Thanks all!
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Old 05-11-2011, 04:18 PM   #2
Jun 2005
Eugene, OR
Posts: 4,793
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You cannot copyright a single recipe. You can copyright a collection of recipes, like a recipe book.
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Old 05-11-2011, 04:19 PM   #3
May 2010
Posts: 210
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Recipes can't be copyrighted for the reason you gave. That's why most food and beverage makers don't release their recipes.

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Old 05-11-2011, 04:20 PM   #4
BendBrewer's Avatar
Jan 2010
Bend, Oregon
Posts: 3,134
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I don't think they can really copyright them and even if they did, the smallest variation would get anyone around it. That's why they keep some of the info so secret like specific temps.
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Old 05-11-2011, 04:23 PM   #5
Mar 2010
South Dakota
Posts: 265
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You cannot copyright a recipe. It is considered a trade secret. That being said, breweries have nothing they can do to protect these trade secrets other than having a secrecy clause that all employees sign. This does not protect the recipes but rather allows for a brewery to sue the person who released the information. To sue though, it is required to provide proof of bad actions.

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Old 05-11-2011, 04:51 PM   #6
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BigBlueDog's Avatar
Apr 2010
Posts: 144
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Think of a recipe as a method of producing a certain beer. Although methods are patentable under US (and international) intellectual property laws, they must meet certain criteria - e.g., novel, useful, not obvious to others having the same skills in the particular industry. Recipes, whether for food or drink, for various reasons would not meet those criteria.

Copyright applies to the written versions of recipes. A single recipe can be copyrighted under intellectual property law. If you were the first to publish a recipe you created, e.g., in a magazine, book or on this forum, you would hold the copyright to that published version. Others could not re-publish the exact same recipe without your permission. Once published however, the method described in your recipe could be practiced by anyone.

A brewery's unpublished recipes would not necessarily be considered trade secrets, unless the brewery takes certain measures to maintain the secrecy. What is sufficient is determined by trade secret laws.

Going back to the OP's questions. If a brewery were to publish a recipe, the method it describes for making that beer is now in the public domain and could be practiced by anyone.

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Old 05-11-2011, 05:20 PM   #7
Jan 2011
lincoln, illinois
Posts: 384
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I think the can copywrite the names thats about it. I know that ab tried to sue dfh for naming punkin ale to generally.

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Old 05-11-2011, 05:35 PM   #8
jkarp's Avatar
Jun 2008
Elizabeth, CO
Posts: 2,112
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Lordy. So much bad info...

You don't "copywrite" names. Perhaps you're thinking of Trademarks?

Copyright does NOT apply to "written versions of recipes". Copyright involves the concept of substantial literary expression. A recipe normally does not meet this criteria.
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Old 05-11-2011, 05:40 PM   #9
Aug 2009
Johnson Creek, WI
Posts: 191
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It's like the recipe for Coke, they keep it under lock and key and only a couple executives get to see it.

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Old 05-11-2011, 06:24 PM   #10
Dec 2009
Posts: 374
Liked 14 Times on 8 Posts

I'm a formulation chemist so hopefully I know a bit about this.

Super high level but what BLuedog said above about a component or combination of components of the recipe needing to be novel or not industry common knowledge is correct. This all has to be defined very precisely in the patent and sometimes it will still allow someone to sneak around it. However, a big reason for not patenting is once you've patented a recipe component, its out in the public domain for everyone to see. And you only get protection on it for 20 years and only if you actually use it. A more common techinique, like the coke example, is to just use a trade secret. If coke would have somehow patented their recipe they would have been protected for only 20 years.

Another way to do it is to patent a unique process. DFH's continuous hopping process seems like something that could be patentable (however I'm not sure if it is). But even then it can be tricky.

Also, brewing is so much more than just recipe that most brewers don't mind sharing

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