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So You're Starting a Food Truck: How Do You Protect Your Intellectual Property?

There you are, finally rolling the dice and pursuing your culinary aspirations. You are starting your own food truck business. You have your unique concept, you have a potential catchy name and logo, you have a secret sauce that you believe consumers will eat even if it is served on plywood, you bought your food truck, you just launched your website, and you are all over social media. Then it dawns on you that you failed to take any steps to protect your company's intellectual property rights. This article briefly outlines the steps that you can take to protect your intellectual property rights while also making sure you are not infringing on someone else's.

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. However, words that are generic and simply identify the name of a manufacturer or product without any distinctive/particularized lettering are not awarded trademark protections. Therefore, there are several factors of legal significance you should consider when selecting your food truck name and/or logo.

First, in order to avoid potential infringement liability you will have to do your research to make sure that your chosen name and/or logo is not identical to or might lead to consumer confusion with regard to a name and/or logo used by another company. A good place to start is to go to the United States Patent and Trademark Office's ("USPTO") website and conduct a trademark search to identify any prior pending or registered trademarks that are identical or similar to your name and/or logo.

Second, a thorough search engine investigation for identical and similar business names and or logos should be conducted. Under the law, even if an identical or similar competitor has not registered its name and/or logo with the USPTO, they may still have certain common law rights through their "first in time" use of the name and logo as to certain limited geographic areas.

Taking the aforementioned into account should assist you in registering your name and trademark with the USPTO. However, registering your name and trademark can prove to be a daunting task and you may want to consult an attorney who specializes in intellectual property.

Social media has proven to be the lifeline to the mobile food truck industry. You spent substantial monies on designing and launching your website. Your company is all over Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Now, how do you protect yourself and prevent others from infringing the content of your website?

Copyrights protect your food truck business's creative works from unauthorized use. A copyright is a legal device that gives the author or originator of a literary, artistic, musical, or other creative work the sole right to publish and sell that work. Registering a copyright with the United States Copyright Office can protect your website content (including pictures), advertisements, menus, and other literary or artistic works.
As the owner of the copyright, you have the right to control the reproduction of your work, including the right to receive financial compensation for its reproduction. In addition, you also have the right to grant or sell these rights to others.

However, your ability to enforce your rights is dependent upon seeking Federal protection. You may seek protection yourself but it is often worthwhile to consult and retain an attorney who specializes in copyright law.

That secret sauce of yours that raises your food truck above all the competition is a trade secret and must be protected in that matter. Private information that gives your food truck company an economic advantage over your competitors constitutes a trade secret. Recipes, formulas, customer lists, and sources of supply are a few examples of what may be deemed trade secrets.

Provided that you took reasonable steps under the circumstances to maintain your secret sauce's recipe and that it derives independent economic value (actual or potential), you may have legal remedies that can prevent others from using your recipe. Moreover, you could recover substantial damages from a competitor's misappropriation of your secret sauce.

There several steps your company can take to protect your secret sauce. Initially, you should have all your employees sign a non-disclosure agreement preventing them from sharing the recipe with others even after they leave your company. Second, you must maintain the secrecy of your recipe. As a practical matter, you should take into account the layout of your food truck and how the business is run. For example, you do not want your recipe laying out for everyone to see when they order from you. When making your secret sauce, you should have the recipe placed in a location so that only you and/or your employees bound by their non-disclosure agreements can see it and also make sure that customers cannot easily view you mixing the sauce. You should also, control who comes in and out of your food truck so that you can maintain your business's privacy.

I hope this article provides you with some insight about intellectual property and how it applies to your food truck business. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact me here.

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