Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Intellectual property as trade secrets

How are English muffins baked?  It's a trade secret, and one surrounded with hints of espionage: A Man With Muffin Secrets, but No Job With Them.

"The company that owns the Thomas’ brand says that only seven people know how the muffins get their trademark tracery of air pockets — marketed as nooks and crannies — and it has gone to court to keep a tight lid on the secret.
That leaves one of the seven, Chris Botticella, out of a job — and at the center of a corporate spectacle involving top-secret recipe files, allegations of clandestine computer downloads and an extreme claim of culinary disloyalty: dumping English muffins for Twinkies and Ho Hos.
Mr. Botticella, 56, delved into the mystery of Thomas’ muffinhood (hint: it has nothing to do with the fork), after Bimbo Bakeries USA bought the brand early last year. At the time, Mr. Botticella was a Bimbo vice president in charge of bakery operations in California.
But he left the company in January, apparently allowing co-workers to believe he was retiring. But he had accepted a job with the rival baker Hostess Brands, which years ago had tried to crack the muffin code.
Bimbo obtained a federal court order barring the move, and late last month an appeals panel in Pennsylvania upheld the order."
"Neither Mr. Botticella nor a Bimbo spokesman would comment for this article, but the legal papers in the case suggest a muffin culture more reminiscent of Langley than Drury Lane. Recipe manuals are called code books. Valuable information is compartmentalized to keep it from leaking out. Corporate officials speak of sharing information on a “need-to-know basis.”
According to Bimbo’s filings, the secret of the nooks and crannies was split into several pieces to make it more secure, and to protect the approximately $500 million in yearly muffin sales. They included the basic recipe, the moisture level of the muffin mixture, the equipment used and the way the product was baked. While many Bimbo employees may have known one or more pieces of the puzzle, only seven knew every step.
“Most employees possess information only directly relevant to their assigned task,” Daniel P. Babin, a Bimbo senior vice president, said in a written court declaration, “and very few employees, such as Botticella, possess all of the knowledge necessary to produce a finished product.” "

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