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Lessons From McDonald’s Special Sauce: Posting an Online Tutorial Video Disclosing the “Secret” Means There is No Trade Secret to Protect

Even if you are unaware of the fact, your San Diego business has trade secrets that are entitled to legal protection under both California and federal law. However, certain steps must be taken to protect the secrecy of your trade secrets. If you post an online video showing how to make your “special sauce,” for example, the secret is out and there is no longer a trade secret to be protected. This is what happened with the special sauce that is on the Big Mac sandwich. Millions have enjoyed the trademarked Big Mac sandwich that is made and sold at McDonald’s restaurants. The special sauce is rightly famous. However, the recipe leaked out years ago and, arguably, the trade secret protection for the recipe was lost. Once the secret is out, there is no recovering it. Then, in 2017, McDonald’s posted a video online showing a McDonald’s chef preparing the sauce for a homemade version of the sandwich. See Mercury News report here with the attached video. At this point, there is more than likely no trade secret protection for the special sauce.

The example of the lost trade secret status of the Big Mac special sauce provides many legal lessons. If you need to protect your San Diego trade secrets, it is essential that you retain experienced San Diego corporate counsel for advice and assistance. Under both California and federal law, a trade secret is defined as:

  • Any information that is secret
  • That is has commercial value from the fact that the information is secret
  • And is subject to efforts to keep the information secret

The definition of “information” is broad. Thus, “information” can include customer names, contact information, buying habits, and the like. That is why every San Diego business has trade secrets even if the business does not consciously recognize its possession of trade secrets. The idea of “commercial value” is a low standard. The value does not have to be millions of dollars, exceedingly high, or even “substantial.” Even a small minimal value is sufficient for information to be considered a trade secret as long as the third step is taken — some efforts to keep the information secret. Obviously, this is the legal prong that is violated if you post an online video showing how to make your special sauce. If you post a video disclosing the secret, you are doing the opposite of making efforts to keep the secret a secret. Further, once you post a video, then the information is no longer secret and, legally speaking, your business cannot satisfy the first prong either.

That being said, while trade secret protection might be lost, there are other legal protections for intellectual property even for a special sauce recipe that is no longer a secret. For example, there may be protections such as trademark registration. Other aspects of the recipe might still be secret and confidential such as product and raw material sourcing, pricing, methods and processes.

Contact San Diego Corporate Law Today

For more information, contact attorney Michael Leonard, Esq., of San Diego Corporate Law. Mr. Leonard can be reached at (858) 483-9200 or via email. Mr. Leonard’s law practice is focused on corporate, securities, contract, and intellectual property law for small and medium businesses. Mr. Leonard can assist with the formation of your business entity — corporations, LLCs, and other forms — financing through the sale of debt and equity securities, mergers and acquisitions, contract drafting and review including commercial leases, and establishment and licensing of trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Like us on Facebook.

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