Can you patent a steak?

Summary:Cows have been around for ages, and nobody ever figured out how to butcher this particular steak. The inventors of this process have effectively made every cow worth more, and deserve a piece of the action.

When I'm not blogging here I'm involved in the food world, so imagine my surprise when a law and technology issue arose with respect to a steak.

This is what happened: a group of Oklahoma State University researchers figured out how to carve a tasty new steak -- the Vegas Strip, they are calling it -- out of a part of the cow that is normally ground up into hamburger. As a result, this part of the animal can now be sold for more than before and, therefore, the value of the carcass is increased a bit.

The researchers have filed for a patent. Specifically, they are asking for a patent to protect the process of extracting this steak from the carcass: the type and sequence of knife strokes. Needless to say, the blogosphere thinks this is ridiculous.

Why? This mechanical process should be just as patentable as anything else. Cows have been around for ages, and nobody ever figured out how to butcher this particular steak. The inventors of this process have effectively made every cow worth more, and deserve a piece of the action. This promise to inventors, researchers, and others who move the state of the art forward, is how we incentivize our society to create rather than copy.

The best thing written on this so far appeared today on Slate, where Adam Conner-Simons asks:

People readily accept that industries like manufacturing or pharmaceuticals deserve legal protections for their inventions—so why do we get so uneasy when our taste buds are involved?

Well worth a read.

Topics: Legal, Browser

About

Steven Shaw used to be a litigation attorney at Cravath, Swaine &gMoore, a New York law firm, and is now the online community managergfor eGullet.org and the Director of New Media Studies at thegInternational Culinary Center.

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