Can You Patent a Pizza?

Close your eyes and imagine this: a world without stuffed crust pizza. We know!—but that was the dismal state of the Italian flatbread scene before 1985, when Anthony Mongiello, aka The Big Cheese, came up with an innovation that loaded even more cheese onto pizza, while saving crusts nationwide from the trashcan. It was a multi-million dollar idea, Mongiello was sure—if only he could figure out how to protect his intellectual property and license it. But can you copyright the recipe for stuffing the crust? Could that puffy, cheese-filled rim be trademarked, or the technique for making it qualify as a trade secret? Can you patent a pizza? And did Pizza Hut, which unveiled their own stuffed crust pie in 1995, steal his idea—or does the concept of a cheesy crust belong to humanity as a whole? This episode, we're diving deep into the weird and wonderful world of food IP, via the legendary legal battles to defend Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish, Smucker's Uncrustables, and that futuristic mall treat of the 90s, Dippin' Dots ice cream. Listen in now for the true story of stuffed crust pizza—a story in which creativity, commerce, and lots and lots of cheese collide.

Episode Notes

Anthony Mongiello

Anthony Mongiello is the founder and CEO of Formaggio Italian Cheese Specialties, which produces mozzarella cheese products. The short film about his stuffed crust patent fight is called "Stolen Dough."

An illustration from Anthony's patent for "stuff'n-the-crust" pizza. (Image credit: US Patent #4661361)

Chris Sprigman

Chris Sprigman is the Murray and Kathleen Bring Professor of Law at NYU, where he teaches courses on intellectual property law, among other topics. His research has focused on the introduction of new technologies and how the law influences innovation. For more of his thoughts on what happens to innovation in fields where IP laws are ineffective or not applicable, check out the fascinating paper he authored with Kal Raustiala, "When are IP Rights Necessary? Evidence from Innovation in IP's Negative Space."

Valerie Flugge

Valerie Flugge is a lecturer at California State University, Northridge, drawing on her 30 years as a lawyer focusing on business disputes, including copyright infringement. With Kurt M. Saunders, she co-authored a paper packed full of great examples of food IP case law: "Food for Thought: Intellectual Property Protection for Recipes and Food Designs."

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and Economics

This episode of Gastropod was supported by a generous grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and Economics. Check out the other books, movies, shows, podcasts, and more that they support here.


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