Q: I have a startup, involves catering food from third parties, can the origin of the food be kept as a trade secret ?

1 Lawyer Answer

Griffin Klema


A: It is unclear what you mean by "origin" of the food. The real question is what are you trying to protect? A recipe? The identity of your wholesalers/sources?

There is a whole host of regulatory issues regarding sale of food and beverages, and they will certainly determine how much you can keep secret. For example, the Coca-Cola recipe is a trade secret, but the company must still tell you things about what is in the product, as required by federal law.

It also depends on how you are advertising your services and product. Do you promote it as "farm to table" or "organic"? Those kinds of assertions carry with them consequences if they are false or misleading.

I recommend locating a Michigan attorney who specializes in food & beverage law, and has experience with both federal regulations (e.g. FDA), and local regulations (e.g. the Michigan Office of Ag Development - MDARD). Your only goal from that first attorney is to find out what must be disclosed. Then take the opinion letter from that first attorney to an attorney specializing in intellectual property and determine what is left that can be protected by trade secret, and, most importantly, how to keep that valuable business asset.

For now, you may wish to keep things secret until you have secured appropriate advice regarding what can be protected. If you publicly disclose what you deem proprietary information, or fail to put in place protections to keep the information safe, then you may lose trade secret protection. Finally, you might want to look at the following guide from MDARD: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mda/MDA_guide_chapter5_335565_7.pdf

Good luck!

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