On Trademarking

THE LAB (@LAB5702) posed an interesting question today: “What are your guys thoughts on trademarking #cocktails and recipes?”

I imagine the initial, knee-jerk reaction of many is to call this poppy and/or cock. Just think of some of the possible consequences:

  • Bartenders and bars forming many-tentacled conglomerates in an effort to pool money and resources to protect their so-claimed signature recipes
  • Nasty legal suits because some innocent bev manager’s idea for a Manhattan with Cynar has already been done
  • Recipe trolls who go about trademarking as many cocktails as they possibly can
  • Being forced to go to a set network of bars to enjoy particular cocktails due to licensing battles


But, on the other hand, if you work your ass off to craft new flavor extraction processes and then test out a hundred different combinations to get the exact ratio for a house cocktail that is wildly successful, don’t you deserve some credit? Is that really so much to ask for?

The answer, as with so many things, is that it depends. Up to a certain level, cocktails are simply an exercise in combinatorics and technique. If you’re crafting a four ingredient drink, there are a finite number of common, commercial items and a finite number of accepted units of measurement. It seems naive (at best) to believe that the Manhattan variation you made with a quarter ounce of Cynar  is inconceivable by all but the most brilliant minds. You simply got there first.

So, rewarding true innovation and acts of daring-do seems apt–but not through legal trinkets and commendations. Instead, I believe there should be continued (and increased) consumer education about what’s going on with everyone who wants to have a voice in the industry–professionals, hobbyists, retirees, enthusiasts and so on. This kind of sharing puts the spotlight on innovators, fosters further exploration and helps defend against territory disputes. Everyone wins: those putting their ideas out there get publicity and consumers get more choice.


3 thoughts on “On Trademarking

  1. I’d like to see more powwowing between people who come up with roughly the same recipe and perhaps decide on the best name(s). If an ingredient combination is good enough for multiple people to think of it and make a successful drink, then it needs some kind of standard nomenclature to help it stand on its own as a cocktail.

    I think the iconography of a cocktail supercedes any creator involvement, though it does make sense to talk about creators when looking at a body of work and seeing a style emerge, like with Donn Beach or Trader Vic, etc…

    • cocktailspin says:

      Not sure how I feel about decision by committee, but maybe being in the corporate world has turned me bitter towards it. I also don’t mind a particular inventive cocktail having multiple names, as long as it came to be independently (hard to prove, I know). What would irk me more is if a technique was created by someone in a signature drink which was then copied and completely renamed.

      • It is an iffy proposition, but my thought was mainly connect the people who independently came up with the recipe and let them decide amongst themselves. Having outside arbiters would be a lot worse, and an American Idol-style popularity contest further worse. But still, if there’s a desire to bring order to the creative chaos, there won’t be completely easy choices to be made.

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