Earth & Table

Law Reporter

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Richard Olney’s The French Menu Cookbook (1970) and Simple French Food (1974) profoundly shaped American food trends in the 20th century—mostly behind the scenes. They inspired Alice Waters as she launched Chez Panisse, igniting a fresh California cuisine revolution. She, James Beard and Julia Child would all make regular pilgrimages to Olney’s hermitage dwelling in Provence to dine with this genius of the palate. Success spawns copycats. The culprit here is Richard Nelson’s American Cooking (1983).…
Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful composition of matter may potentially obtain a United States patent. When it comes to food compositions, however, this seemingly broad scope of patentability is judicially tempered. Novel foods are not patentable unless they demonstrate a “coaction or cooperative relationship between the selected ingredients which produces a new, unexpected and useful function.” In reality, patent applicants find it difficult to satisfy this scientific-sounding rule. Even if an inventor…
Truffles mushrooms reside in a Holy Grail land of taste preference. They call to mind ancient French banquet meals and rural truffle hunters and their dogs. Scarce and expensive, the truffle industry satisfies market demand by bottling their musky scent in so-called truffle oils. The Pacific Northwest is an unsung truffle backwater—when compared to the famous truffle growing regions of Périgord, France and Alba, Italy. Most residents never see, smell nor taste our region’s outstanding…
Pecans are a microcosm of Americana.  “As the Stuart Pecan Company would brag in 1893: ‘We [Americans] have rightfully a monopoly upon the nut.’”[1] Wild pecan trees proliferate in riverine ecosystems coursing through the southern United States.  Their domesticated, often patented counterparts now satisfy huge consumer demand for these indigenous nuts, once vital to tribal commerce.  Indeed, the name pecan is derived “from an Algonquin word meaning, loosely translated, ‘a nut too hard to…
White Alba truffles from the Piedmont region of Italy—and black winter truffles from Périgord, France—are a fount of gastronomic legends. A black truffle and foie gras soup, served with a puff pastry topping, is the signature recipe of the late, great French chef, Paul Bocuse. My first indelible taste of a White Alba truffle came shaved atop a Carnaroli Risotto Biologico with a Castelmagno Mousse, served at Per Se, Chef Thomas Keller’s restaurant in Manhattan—at…
No, this post is not about the Thanksgiving antics of eccentric relatives.  Rather, it describes patented varieties of almonds, walnuts and pecans they may crack open with vintage nutcrackers—making a gleeful mess before dinner is served. Tree nuts still resist the specific varietal trademark branding now associated with former fruit commodities, such as the Pink Lady® or forthcoming Cosmic Crisp™ apples.  Patent rights in undifferentiated fruit or vegetable produce usually focus on solving grower or industry facing…
Autumn spells and smells of apples.  Nowadays, newly patented apple varieties promise to dazzle our taste buds anew as fall harvests come in from our nation’s orchards. It was not always so.  As a reminder, I recently bit into a nice-looking Red Delicious apple taken from a bowl of fresh fruit in our law firm reception area.  A mealy, sickly-sweet mash with leathery skin fragments stayed unchewed in my mouth—until I could race to the…
  The most important plant patent trial of the early 21st century just took place in northern California.  California Berry Cultivars v. The Regents of the University of California sorts out “stakeholder” rights associated with the University system’s vaunted strawberry breeding program. Two esteemed UC Davis professors left their academic positions and formed California Berry Cultivars (CBC) in order to commercialize their longstanding research accomplishments.  They had spent their careers at the University’s land grant…
Oranges possess a special cachet in the American dream.  Growing up in the baby-boomer era meant that you heard—“breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine”—thousands of times while watching rerun episodes of Leave it to Beaver and The Flintstones. As my breakfast chore, I would dutifully mix three cans of tap water with one can of “fresh” frozen concentrated orange juice.  Voilà, we had our morning OJ, just like Anita Bryant’s cheery…
Diana Kennedy, an intrepid chronicler of Mexican cuisine, describes cuatomates as “very small cherry tomatoes with an intense flavor and enormous amount of tiny seeds.”  A potently flavored, tiny green tomatillo variety “grows wild in [Mexican] cornfields.”[1] Wild, obscure tomatoes—ones you’ve never seen nor tasted—represent the tomato’s intellectual property asset future, in the form of valuable plant patents, closely held trade secrets and memorable trademarks.  Their genomic structures tell a fascinating, if indirect story…