Dig hard enough, and you can find curious cases of copyright dispute around the world pertaining to things that you might never have guessed would be subject to a copyright claim. It seems that if there's a product or creation or invention worth protecting, people will take whatever steps necessary to try and protect it, even as it launches us into new and unexplored avenues of intellectual property that would seem more at place on the Food Network than in a courtroom.
The most recent example of out-there copyright claims involves two cheese makers out of the Netherlands, the notion of taste, and no shortage of vowels. Dutch company Levola took its competitor Smilde to court over claims that Smilde's herb cheese spread Witte Wievenkaas infringed upon the taste of Levola's own cheese, Heksenkaas. Levola claimed that Smilde was infringing upon its copyright on the taste of its cheese, which raised the question of whether taste is something that can be copyrighted.
The answer, according to the EU court that ruled upon the matter, is no. In its reporting on the matter, NPR notes that the cheese fails on one of the main tests in determining whether something is able to be protected by copyright, namely the idea that to be a protected work, that work must be identifiable with precision and objectivity. That requirement runs headlong into the idea of food itself; no two people's tastebuds are exactly alike, each detecting elements of taste differently. While there may be similarities across swaths of the consumer population, the lack of universality when it comes to taste ultimately led the court to decide against Levola in the matter.
The case could serve as a potential landmark for both ongoing and future lawsuits over claims of ownership to a particular taste. That particularly thorny issue might create headaches for those who enjoy the balance of power in the industries of food and drink, but intellectual property rights shouldn't be used in a way that bans competition, or allows for its laws to be used as a cudgel against competitors. Allowing the copyright of taste, applied vaguely, would seem to deprive consumers of the variety of taste that makes the food industry as successful as it is, and makes the experience of food itself worthwhile.