Can you patent a steak?

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.

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TOPICS: Legal, Browser
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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

Steven Shaw

About Steven Shaw

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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19 comments
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  • Patenting the steak

    Sorry, there are NO new principals involved, just a different application of ideas already known. Maybe a copyright, but not a patent.
    hayneiii@...
    • So, in your view nothing is worthy of a patent?

      What does it take?
      Bruizer
    • Copyright of instructional literature maybe

      As far as I know, a process is not protected under any restrictive laws -- copyright, patent, trademark, etc. They might be able to trademark the name "Vegas Strip", but that wouldn't stop me from hacking out the same bit of cow and calling it "Chuck +." They could publish literature on the technique which, of course, would be copyrightable.
      jvitous
      • I highly doubt

        that they can trademark "Vegas Strip".
        dsa791
      • @dsa791

        Trademark it with regards to meat...

        Oh wait.
        jvitous
  • Because people are too caught up with their own ego's

    and don't understand that manufacturing or pharmaceuticals is different then cutting meat from a a bone.

    Next it'll be patenting sushi cuts, lawn mowing, or car washing.
    William Farrel
    • Speaking of lawn mowing

      I've already filed a patent for the consuming a golden delicious beverage wile mowing as well as making left hand turns while mowing on a lawn tractor. You all will be hearing from my attorneys soon.
      NonFanboy
      • Your attorneys are coming to mow my lawn?

        Tell them not to rush, it's dead anyway after the recent heat wave and drought conditions.
        jvitous
  • Clarity Required

    Is the Porterhouse or NY Strip or ...... method of cutting these steaks patented? If so I would say yes.
    Is new equipment involved? If so I would say yes.
    For pretty much all else I would be hesitant until I can assess the impact this "new" style of patent will have.
    rhonin
  • ???

    "Why? This mechanical process should be just as patentable as anything else."

    No - the machinery specifically invented for this should be patentable.
    I mean - really? What about prior art by the predators like wolves, tigers, lions. :-P
    vgrig
    • I second that!

      This is ridiculous, people in the patenting office should be given the boot!
      nessrapp
  • Patent Madness

    Will there be no end to the absurdity of patents?

    Prior Art == YES
    Obvious == YES
    Incremental == YES
    Patentable == NO!!!!
    sismoc
  • A Misteak not to

    How is this different than countries like Japan, France and Italy implementing Quality Control Guarantees on their products? Examples are Kobe Beef, Champagne and Chianti. These are internationally controlled laws, but this steak is new and popular, and should be afforded the same quality controls.
    James Keenan
    • Wrong...

      I can produce Kobe Beef, Champagne and Chianti... As long as i don't call them Kobe Beef, Champagne and Chianti. Trademarks are different from patents.
      So - agree: none should be able to call this steak a "Vegas Strip", but owners of the name "Vegas Strip"... Well, a nd the city of Las Vegas maybe. :-P
      vgrig
  • Questions Begged

    That patenting actually does promote invention and without patents, these researchers would have been content to let all those future Vegas Strips be ground beef instead. That patents in the pharmaceutical and bio-techonolgies are necessary and sufficient to human progress.

    Being the son of a public institution biology researcher who is affiliated with important research results, I can tell you, my Dad was quite satisfied with his faculty salary and grant income. He was offered a chance to go into private industry and my point about his research being NDAed was far more resonant an argument against than the possible upsides in wealth being offered by colleagues undertaking the venture. I tend to think that human knowledge and invention will proceed without patents. And, indeed, it has clearly done so.

    Oklahoma State University is a public institution, right? So the fine butchers and beef eaters of that great cowboy state paid for researchers and pay again for the fruits of the research? Totally fair.

    And speaking of paying, the cost of the Vegas Strip will be increased by the license and, if the cut is popular, the supply of beef for hamburgers will be decreased, so the cost of hamburger goes up. So, society has benefited from a monopoly of this new cut of meat, how? Though, to be fair, if the Vegas Strip is successful, the price of hamburger would increase regardless of the patenting.

    But, let's ask ourselves how enforceable is this? Does OSU plan to contract with secret shoppers (much as ASCAP and BMI pay for people to sit in non-paying bars) to see if a butcher or restaurant is selling that cut of meat that looks as though it might have been prepared with those exact knife cuts documented in the patent, without paying a license? Some law firm gets hired to send out the pay or we'll sue letters? If I were a butcher, I would just continue to use that part of the cow for ground beef and not gamble on going any where near the Vegas Strip. Some of my best friends are attorneys, but I wouldn't want to hire one because I was chopping up cow flesh to make tasty steaks.

    I am unqualified to answer the question if this is patentable under our current law. I am ill-equipped to argue my feeling that the only people who really like the patent system are the ones who use it to protect prices and block disruptive competitors and the attorneys who are the necessary and expensive adjunct to a patent argument that goes to court. I can say that patenting cuts of meat does not seem likely to make the list of "Great Things that Happened in 2012." Whether it's because this injects costs and inefficiencies into a new market or because the licensing causes the product to fail before it gets a chance, it doesn't really matter. Monopolies are bad and we should be vary wary to invite a monopoly-granting body of law into a new market.
    DannyO_0x98
  • Several Reasons Why it Should not be Patentable

    First I'll bet there is more than one (perhaps an infinite number) of knife strokes that will produce this cut of meat so if all they can patent is an exact series of knife strokes (the physical process) then the patent is worthless, if they seek to patent all possible series of knife strokes then what it really defines is the idea of the steak which should not be patentable.

    Second, this type of argument would appear to make it possible to patent origami shapes. Folding origami is a physical act and the exact folds one must make are no different than the knife strokes you are suggesting should be patentable. Should origami shapes be patentable?
    txscott
  • No, but...

    I think you can "Stake a Claim." Not really the same thing though is it?
    khess
    • Wouldn't that be

      [b]Steak[/b] a Claim?
      William Farrel
  • Shouldn't be...

    ...but it's probably more warranted than most software patents. At least this one is unlikely to be infringed by accident.

    I'm not prepared to get into a legal argument with you, but intuitively it strikes me as being a lot like a patent on a musical genre or a literary device.
    John L. Ries