Back Four Brand Protection

Back Four

Baked Off with Copycats – the Importance of Intellectual Property in the Baking World.

Copycat Cronuts® and the mouth-watering success of a hybrid

If you consider yourself a foodie then chances are you’ve asked – what is a Cronut® and most importantly – where can I get one?

It was lucky New Yorkers who first started queuing for Dominique Ansel’s pastry sensation (a cross between a croissant and a donut) in 2013, but Ansel has subsequently opened bakeries around the world and brought his talents to a city near you.

The Cronut
Trademarked Cronut: Image Instragram @Dominiqueansel

If you aren’t near an Ansel bakery, however, then the Cronut® also jump started a modern trend for hybrid pastries. It was so successful that subsequently we’ve seen the doughscuit, the cruffin, the duffin, the bagnut and even the Greggsnut. Can you name any more?

Other Hybrid food

Predictably, however, the Cronut’s success was also followed by a range of people trying to take advantage of the resources and finances Ansel had invested in his product by copying the name ‘Cronut’. Thankfully for his business, Ansel had taken relevant intellectual property advice and managed to protect himself from the worst counterfeit infringements.

Chef Dominique commented “The world of intellectual property is a big one, and as a small shop owner I had to educate myself quickly. Protecting your trademark is, in many ways, protecting your creativity and integrity. And it’s something I think is important to learn.”

How can Intellectual Property Protect Foods?

Food brand protection can be one of the more complex areas of anti-counterfeiting because the uses of intellectual property are varied. Many food items are protected under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin programme (PDO), but this only covers a handful of specific regions, and is more closely linked to the origins of a product than its brand image.

So, while you may be sure that your Jersey Royals are solely grown on that island, it doesn’t really help protect foods which can be made anywhere. Similarly, the lack of copyright coverage for recipes means that other people would have been free to reproduce the same list of ingredients that went into the Cronut® too.

Perhaps most challenging, however, is the tendency of many popular foods to go from being seen as brand names to being purely generic terms, or to be too generic for trademark protection. Examples such as granola, butterscotch and corn flakes all show how common foods, which were at one time heavily associated with a single brand, can end up being reproduced by a range of other companies.

Cornflakes and Granola

Dominique Ansel on the other hand took legal advice and went about protecting himself from copycat Cronuts in the right way. He made sure that his product retained the all-important capital letter at the start so that imposter pastries would be unable to generically use the term cronut without it referring to his Cronut®. Also, Ansel always uses the important ® mark when referring to the Cronut®. A sensible move when building your brand and it provides notice that the word is protected and registered with a trade mark office. Find out more about this here.

Dominique Ansel

When Ansel’s NYC bakery debuted the product in 2013 they also registered the term Cronut® with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Crucially, the baker never claimed that he had invented the recipe, nor did he suggest that the list of ingredients or the process was specific to him, his claim for uniqueness was based on the intention to turn the word Cronut® into a brand name. In intellectual property terms, the Cronut® is closer to a Big Mac (a branded recipe) than to a Jazz apple (a single, branded food).

Ansel didn’t want to own the recipe for the Cronut®, he wanted to make the best version and then to build a brand and a global reputation on it. Something he’s done with great success.

It didn’t just work for sales purposes either, because the filing for trademark status immediately protected the growing brand from imitators. Within the first six months of Cronut® being filed, two different companies attempted to register marks for The Cronut Hole and Cronuts, both of which were suspended by the authorities, meaning that Ansel’s business was free to grow.

Although this process may not stop those illegal infringements of the trademark that are intentionally made by counterfeiters, it does still give any business the best legal basis to take action.

Protecting the Intellectual Property of the Scioche

Success in the bakery isle isn’t just for those in the US; here in the UK too, there are stories like those of Simon Cannell of Speciality Breads, whose Scioche® idea has cornered its own market. The idea for the Scioche®, an internationalist hybrid of the English scone and the French brioche, came from his background in baking.

He says, “The initial idea was actually to create a frozen, fully-baked scone, as in all my years in bakery I’d never been able to find one.”

When the plan to create that prototype didn’t go to plan, like all good entrepreneurs, Cannell changed tack. “What do customers actually want when ordering a scone?” he asked. “They want a fruit-filled product with a cake-like texture and scone shape that can be topped with cream and jam. Once we’d stepped away from the ties of it needing to be a traditional scone we were able to fix all of the issues. Scones tend to be dry so we started with a brioche base instead, which is high in butter. We removed the yeast and salt, to be replaced with baking powder and sultanas and then we were almost there.”

Speciality Breads

Much like the Cronut®, although the ingredients may appear similar to other recipes, it was this ability to think differently and then to look at how the product could be manufactured, then marketed that has given the Scioche® an edge over its competitors.

Simon confirms, “We trademarked the idea almost immediately and have also protected the name on the continent as well as in the USA.”

All product developers and brand managers should take the same measures to prepare for a products success before counterfeiters try and take a piece of the cake (or dough) too!

Back Four’s 5 Steps for Food Entrepreneurs to Protect Their Ideas

  1. Come up with a unique idea, or your spin on something which is not already branded.
  2. Give it a name that no one else is using, and which has the potential for global growth and translation.
  3. Take legal advice and make sure you protect your intellectual property in all the markets and categories of product where it might be necessary in the future rather than just the immediately present.
  4. Monitor the marketplace yourself, but also consider using a brand protection agency to help you. There’s no substitute for expertise.
  5. If you do have to deal with counterfeits, then deal with each case on its merits. Some copies of your product may be unintentional, while others may be deliberate.

Are you looking to launch a new food product and wondering how to go about it – we’d love to hear from you. Connect with us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn and we’ll help answer any questions.

Written by Stephen Connolly and Back Four.

Related Posts