Can You Patent A Steak?

A blog about business and economics.
May 22 2012 1:44 PM

Oklahoma State University Wants To Patent A Steak

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Unpatented ribeye steak.

Wikimedia Commons

Recipes and fashion design don't have copyright or patent protection, and yet innovation in those spaces seems to continue apace. But patent law is metastasizing so quickly in the software space that it was only a matter of time before it spread to something like Oklahoma State University's effort to patent a steak.

That sounds ridiculous, mostly because it's ridiculous, but their legal case is plausible. They say that "the patent actually claims the kind of knife strokes that you make in order to create this cut of meat." In other words, they want to patent an algorithm for butchering a cow. And if software and business patents are allowed, then it's clear that algorithms are exactly the kind of thing the US Patent and Trademark office is prepared to hand out patents for. So some algebra teacher could have gotten rich patenting the FOIL method and just think of the licensing fees that were left on the table by whoever was first to come up with the correct process for parallel parking.

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Perhaps we should reconisder our current approach.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.