Can you copyright taste? Is it possible to get a certificate that validates the nuances of a well-made meal – the colour, smell, taste, crunch, shape, softness…the myriad experiences that a dish or food product gives us. This seems like a hypothetical question at best, however, on Friday, the question of whether the taste of a food can be copyrighted or not, was brought up at The European Court of Justice in a case that involved a Dutch cheese.
BBC reported that the court was asked to rule in the case of a spreadable cream cheese and herb dip, Heksenkaas, produced by Levola. Levola argued another cheese, Witte Wievenkaas, infringed its copyright. The court said that for the taste of a food to be classified as a “work” it had to firstly be an original creation, and it needed to be “identifiable with sufficient precision and objectivity.” The court concluded that the taste of a food product cannot be classified as a 'work' and so it is not eligible for copyright protection.
In our neck of the woods, we constantly debate how butter chicken taste far better up North that it would in any Southern state. Every dish has a North Indian and a South Indian variant. To get more specific, each state in our diverse homeland has its own markers when it comes to taste. Even a potato dish, can taste different across a state border. So how does one use this demarcation, to protect this authenticity. Is it even possible?
Big corporations who mass produce food products, however, seek a copyright for the creative expression of the food they produce. But no company has successfully managed to get a complete hold on taste or even shape of the food. The most famous example is of Kit Kat. It is reported that Nestle spent over a decade trying to trademark the four-fingered wafer shape. In July, this year, the European Court of Justice, however, threw out Nestle’s appeal to own the shape. The trademark lawyers are hard at work in big ticket chocolate companies like Toblerone, Lindt etc. to hold on to the shape of their brand’s chocolate.
Shape and packaging, however, seem like more tangible parameters to help draw battle lines, but what do you do when it comes to taste? Taste is subjective.
In our country, it would be anathema to give a certificate for the best
gol gappas a.k.a pani puris a.k.a puchkas to one particular stall, or town, or city or state. It could cause a riot. And messing with the best chaat dish, would be just the tip of the iceberg. There can be no trademark on the swirls of a jalebi or the pop of a hot suji poori. No one can claim the creamiest fish curry is Malai Chingri from Bengal, when Kerala’s fish moilee is around.
It would be fun though to have a mock food war, where the people take in on themselves to try out new dishes from across our country, to see if their hometown delicacies still taste just as good. A fun rivalry to help spread love. There can be no better justice served, than a plate of Goan fish curry-rice and a chilled glass of sol kadi to go with it. If you don’t agree with me, and think there is a better dish, bring it on and let’s eat! This is the best way to solve a matter of taste.
Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi.