I created a recipe for a specialty food product in 2010. I registered my business that would produce this specialty product in early 2014. In late 2014 I began working as the director of public relations and outreach for a business that would provide nutritional and lifestyle programs for individuals and groups. I was not pursuing my own business at this time. My former boss was not in the food business, although we had discussed a partnership. I didn't want to sign the agreement, but now he wants me to turn over my recipe. He paid for some ingredients that I used to try new ideas or provide samples to his nutrition clients, but the recipe never changed and I was always the one who produced the product because I knew it from memory. Because it was my creation to begin with. How do I proceed? Is going to court inevitable?
When you registered your business in early 2014, did you also apply for a patent? (LegalZoom's information on patenting recipes: http://info.legalzoom.com/apply-patent-recipe-20489.html )
If you were able to apply for a patent that would definitely work in your favor, but for the sake of your question I'll assume there's no patent...after a few IP disputes of my own (and working with legal startups Lexicata & LawKick), I've learned that when these disputes arise, your first steps (**before saying anything**) should be to:
1) Gather together any & all proof that the intellectual property (recipe) was entirely created by you *prior* to your employment with the former boss in question; and
2) Carefully review every detail of your historical conversations & agreements with said employer.
Once that's done, if court is looking like your future then you should definitely go beyond Clarity and get an in-state attorney's option, for advice specific to your location & scenario (try asking this same question on Avvo.com), but here a few things I've found helpful consider:
- When your former boss paid for ingredients, was it with the company's funds or his own?
- Are there any IP clauses in any documents associated with your former employer? (think beyond contracts - check email signature disclaimers, anything that could be construed in way that would seem you made it the company's product)
- Did you at any point use company property and/or resources to further your product? (e.g. a company-issue laptop)
- Did you mix your business & personal email at all? (for instance did you ever handle any of the company's business from your personal email address, or forward company emails/documents/etc. to your personal email - doing so can sometimes put you at risk of having your personal email inbox subpoenaed if a court believes it's relevant).