Hostess bankruptcy: What will happen to the recipes for Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Wonder Bread? - Slate Magazine:
Confectioners rarely patent their recipes, because applying with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office means publishing the ingredients and methods. The legal protection lasts only 20 years, after which time anyone can profit from the creation. Manufacturers instead guard their recipes as trade secrets, a status that isn’t time-limited. The company forces employees to sign nondisclosure agreements and sues rival manufacturers that extract their methods and formulas from workers. The companies that eventually buy Hostess brands will gain access to those trade secrets and the right to enforce the secrecy agreements. If, however, someone cracks the Twinkie recipe and manufactures an identical product under a different name—the brand names are protected by trademark—there’s very little the new owner will be able to do.
Candy companies go to extraordinary lengths to protect their recipes. In her essay “Trade Secrecy in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory,” law professor Jeanne C. Fromer explains that the fictional Wonka’s lock-and-key approach to candy making isn’t far from reality. Companies store their recipes in safes. For many years, Mars, the company that makes Skittles, Snickers, and M&Ms, refused to reveal its president’s name. The company also builds its own machines and blindfolds visiting repairmen. No Hershey employees know the proportions of ingredients in the company’s chocolate bars.