Can Food Recipes be Protected under the Indian Law?

In 2011, Celebrity chef Anne Thorton faced severe charges from the Food Network for ‘copying’ recipes from Martha Stewart and a major plagiarism battle ensued. This is not a standalone issue; there are several instances of recipe plagiarism creating an interesting question about the legal protection of recipes.

Whether you run a restaurant or a food blog, you would often have questions about recipe ownership, protecting the novelty of your dishes and culinary copyrights. Questions of recipe protection plague many famous restaurants that create signature dishes. For instance, would the chefs who leave become a rival? Or would they steal signature recipe blends?

Can Recipes be Plagiarised?

Take a chocolate cake, for instance, there are only so many ways you can recreate them. So, obviously, there would be similarities. However, with the increase in the number of food blogs, recipe plagiarism has become a real issue.

This wasn’t the case earlier. Throughout history, recipes have been passed down, copied and modified without attribution or credit. This is because there aren’t many ways to bake a cake, and it’s hard to say who came out with it first.

The Concept of ‘Recipe Plagiarism’ is New-Aged

With the rise in the number of celebrity chefs, the pressure to create new and original recipes has increased. This has lead to two different and distinct views:

  • One concept is that recipes can never really be protected and that no one can lay claim to it.
  • The other ideology is that recipes should be seen as an intellectual property, with necessary safeguards against infringement.

So, to answer the primary question, there is no specific provision that protects food recipes. However, there can be certain safeguards that can be found in the intellectual property laws.

Recipes aren’t a new invention or process, nor are they are an identifier of a brand, so, recipes can neither be patented nor trademarked.

Can You Copyright Your Recipes?

Merely listing ingredients or explaining the various steps of a recipe cannot be seen as sufficient grounds for a copyright, since they would merely be seen as facts.

However, a unique expression of the recipe can be seen as a ‘literary work’ that falls within the scope of copyright protection.

For instance, the description, the accompanying ‘recipe story’ that bloggers add to their introduction, illustration, accompanying photographs and style of expression can be protected by a copyright.

Difference Between an Idea and expression

This distinction can be especially confusing for Chefs. For them, it’s the creativity of the recipe that they want to protect, not the expression of it. The creativity of a recipe is seen as an ‘idea’. The Copyright Act, 1957, is very clear about the treatment of ideas. The law is clear that ideas cannot be copyrighted. Therefore, there is no way for chefs to copyright the actual recipe.


A chef cannot copyright the recipe for a chocolate cake. This means that other people can also publish other recipes for chocolate cake. However, they cannot take the chefs way of expressing the recipe (the video or the written work) and claim that it is their work.

What Does a Copyright for a Cookbook Mean?

A published cookbook is protected by copyright. This means that the entire published book is protected. This includes:  

  • The written content, which is seen as a literary work
  • Illustrations and images which are seen as artistic works.

The owner of the cookbook (the chef) will have the sole rights of making multiple copies for sale, translating the book, distributing it or reading exerts of the book for a public audience.

Think of it like this –

With reference to a cookbook, the entire book is the commodity, not the recipes within. While there are 100 books for cakes and bake, why do people choose to buy only the books authored by Sanjeev Kapoor?

Therefore, it makes more sense to protect the book, than the recipes, because the whole point of a cookbook is to allow duplication of the ‘creative idea’.

Ways to Protect Food Recipes

This doesn’t mean that recipes can’t be protected. There are many iconic recipes that are protected as a trade secret.


The signature 11 spice blend of KFCs chicken marinate and the Coca-Cola recipe is not public knowledge and is protected as a trade secret, known only to a handful of employees.

The principle of a trade secret is that they are not divulged or disclosed. Therefore publishing such a recipe would eliminate its protection. 

Loopholes for Chefs

Most celebrity chefs do not consider the dish as a unique. However, they consider their version of it unique and different. 


While there are a hundred ways to make a Paneer Tikka Masala, a chef might still be able to create a unique version by including certain small changes to the original recipe.

In his cookbook, a chef can add that you should marinate 100 grams of paneer with 2 tbsp of garam masala. However, his method of making the paneer and his recipe for the garam masala would be different from the store-bought versions.

Therefore, although the recipe is revealed, the little details that make it stand out would never be disclosed. 


Therefore, while there are no 'sure-shot' legal safeguards for food recipes, they are often protected as trade secrets. If the chefs choose to disclose these secrets, they ensure that they are protected by confidentiality agreements and non-disclosure contracts. 

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