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View Full Version : How do you deal with brewers stealing all your brew records and quitting? TTB?



GoldenCity
09-18-2014, 12:43 PM
Our two brewers recently quit. No big deal but they took all of the records that they brewed, and even some more that were brewed by other brewers. We need this info for the TTB and I do not want to ever have a problem with them. I contacted the former employees with the request and they said that the recipes belong to them and we have no rights to them, because "they belong to them". It is my understanding that once a recipe is brewed on a commercial system that recipe belongs to both the brewer and the brewery, for TTB reasons. We have hit a brick wall trying to talk to them and deal with this in a civil manner. What should we do?

Charlie Sturdavant
Golden City Brewery
Owner, Manager, & Brew Master.

Bainbridge
09-18-2014, 01:01 PM
Well I don't know about "TTB reasons", but it seems to me that they were employees of the brewery and therefore any work performed or records created within the normal scope of their duties, which would obviously include recipe formation and production record-keeping, would be sole property of the Brewery. (Unless you've got some sort of explicit employment contract to the contrary or something.) Also there's a potential for a violation of state or federal Trade Secrets law. Perhaps they're under this misguided notion that one can copyright a recipe and that that somehow makes it theirs? But yeah, sounds like theft, among other things. Call a lawyer.

TrackTownSteve
09-18-2014, 02:21 PM
They took your brewing records? I agree that it is for sure theft.

nateo
09-18-2014, 04:55 PM
Maybe call the police?

Thirsty_Monk
09-18-2014, 08:00 PM
Well I don't know about "TTB reasons", but it seems to me that they were employees of the brewery and therefore any work performed or records created within the normal scope of their duties, which would obviously include recipe formation and production record-keeping, would be sole property of the Brewery. (Unless you've got some sort of explicit employment contract to the contrary or something.) Also there's a potential for a violation of state or federal Trade Secrets law. Perhaps they're under this misguided notion that one can copyright a recipe and that that somehow makes it theirs? But yeah, sounds like theft, among other things. Call a lawyer.

Agreed.

Recipes can not be patented, trademarked or copyrighted to my knowledge. They worked for you and they got paid. All the property (intellectual or otherwise belong to the company).

CharlosCarlies
09-18-2014, 08:08 PM
All the property (intellectual or otherwise belong to the company).

I would think that would vary greatly depending on the employment contract (assuming they had one).

With that said I'm definitely no lawyer...

GlacierBrewing
09-19-2014, 07:36 AM
I heard of a similar situation in my neck of the woods years ago. It ended up in litigation over who "owns" the recipes. It came down to where were they created: on the clock at the brewery or on the brewer's personal time not at work. Created at work=a possession of the business like that full tank of beer brewed at the brewery is an asset of the company. Created not at work=an asset of the individual who made it.
Aside from that, taking the TTB records is outright theft. Call the police. Call your attorney. Would you still be having this question/discussion if they took a CIP pump or took kegs?
Luck to you.

Prost!
Dave

CharlosCarlies
09-19-2014, 08:16 AM
Aside from that, taking the TTB records is outright theft. Call the police. Call your attorney. Would you still be having this question/discussion if they took a CIP pump or took kegs?

Agree with this. Either way let us know what ends up happening.


Our two brewers recently quit. No big deal

Just noticed this. To me, two of my more important employees suddenly quitting would absolutely be a "big deal". Any background story?

MatthewS
09-19-2014, 11:17 AM
Thieves.(period)

For your brewers/employees, all the work performed, recipes conceptualized/formulated, and all records are the property of the employer.

nohandslance
09-19-2014, 01:44 PM
I just finished building two breweries, commissioned equipment and formulated the recipes., Filed the first TTB recipe and Brewers Report of Operations forms.
It is the owners that put up the money, and gave trust in me to fulfill their dream. With a good pay check every month I have no problem giving them a recipe that most likely will make them Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars for about 30 minutes of math and raw material formulation.
These scumbags most likely felt they were worth more than a brewer gets paid.

Lance
Rebel Malting Co.
Reno, Nevada USA
775.997.6411
lancejergensen@gmail.com

CharlosCarlies
09-19-2014, 04:04 PM
For your brewers/employees, all the work performed, recipes conceptualized/formulated, and all records are the property of the employer.

I will re-iterate this not to be a dick, but to protect anybody in a similar situation: "It depends on what's in the employment agreement". Have one...period.

The good news is brewers don't make much money so the odds of them actually doing something from a legal standpoint (if they even could) is pretty much nil.

mashpaddled
09-20-2014, 03:39 PM
Normally you would want an employee handbook, with signed acknowledgments by each employee, that clearly states any recipe design or other invention discovered in the course of employment belongs exclusively to the employer. If your employees are under contract then you would want that in the contract instead. Absent such language, you are at the mercy of your state's laws as to who owns the rights to the recipes and who has licenses to use them. If the employees developed the recipes then they may have the rights even if they were created in the course of employment. That is the law in many states.

Contrary to popular belief, a recipe can be registered as a copyright. (see http://interactionlaw.com/wordpress/2011/05/29/copyrighted-recipe-for-scrambled-eggs/)

All the above aside, the actual records are your property and what you have described is theft. You should file a police report and consider other civil steps to (1) prevent the brewers from using the records for other businesses; (2) protect yourself from other financial harm caused by the theft; and (3) obtain a civil order for the recovery of the records.

If you do not have controls in place in your brewery to protect your rights in the recipes, customer lists and other intellectual property related to your business then your next call should be to an employment lawyer to help you draft and implement an employee handbook that includes these issues.

Bainbridge
09-20-2014, 08:24 PM
Contrary to popular belief, a recipe can be registered as a copyright. (see http://interactionlaw.com/wordpress/2011/05/29/copyrighted-recipe-for-scrambled-eggs/)


Yes. But a listing of ingredients cannot be. If you had a recipe for Green Eggs and Ham, then "you would not, should not put it in too small a pan" and other Seussian nonsense would be copyrightable. But:


One Ham (10lbs)
Two Eggs (Green)


Would not be. So a listing of types and amounts of malts and hops wouldn't be copyrightable either. But if you were to say, publish it with detailed instructions and flowery descriptions that part would be.

Tonganoxie Bob
09-22-2014, 10:00 AM
I'm a recovering attorney, and I agree entirely with John (Hello John! Sorry we haven't talked since CBC). But as another attorney, I can't help but add my own two cents...

People they come; people they go. Especially in your industry. You may not want a thick document called an EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT for everyone that goes to work for you, and you may not have time to put together a comprehensive employee handbook, but you should always (at a bare minimum) get your basic expectations for employment in a good 3-4 page offer letter. Have it countersigned by the employee before the end of the first day of work. You should have a lawyer draft the form letter for you, and you can fill in the blanks as people come and go. I'll bet John can put one together for you for a fee that will be a fraction of the first day's legal fees if you have to sue someone or be sued. Of course the letter won't keep you from having to sue or being sued. All it takes to start a lawsuit is the filing fee. But it will help avoid frivolous disputes, and even before a dispute arises, it creates a good working environment because everybody knows where they stand.

I don't want the potential liability that would arise with posting my letter and having people rely on it. For a form letter, you need to talk to a local lawyer or call John, who probably has a good general, non-state specific letter he can help you with. But in order to help you think about the issues in advance of that meeting where your attorney charges you by the minute, I will share the headings in the letter we use. That way you can think things through in advance, move the billing part of the meeting quicker, and buy the guy a beer.

1. [introductory paragraph...we are pleased to present you with the following offer of employment]
2. Position and responsibilities (I have a bit in here about legal compliance...you may want compliance as a separate section).
3. Compensation and expenses (subheads fixed wages, bonus structure, benefits, expense reimbursements)
4. Start Date
5. Normal Hours and location
6. Paid time off and holidays (we combine sick leave and vacation into a single PTO category, but in practice I don't keep very good records of either).
7. Phone, computer, etc (reminder that we own them..employee doesn't, and has to behave with them)
8. Office Environment (yes, you need to tell people how to dress, that they can't drive a forklift or handle boiling wort while stoned, and that they have to save the fistfights for AFTER work and OFF the premises)
9. Confidentiality, non-solicitation, non-competition (The non-competition bit is tricky. Don't attempt a non-compete without local lawyer help in each case).
10. Ownership of Intellectual Property and Business Information (I don't have it in my agreement, but I would add it if I owned a brewery to protect recipes, etc.).
11. At will employment; letter not comprehensive; employer's ability to change employment terms (very important)

To reiterate, a couple of hours of work from a local lawyer (who knows the particularities of your state employment law), or with an industry-focused lawyer like John, is money well spent. I'd love to help but I can't: I've got my hands full with your packaging orders (but there are never too many of those).

Cheers,

Robt Drumm
Atlas Labels & Packaging LLC
robert@atlaslabels.com

RhombusT
09-22-2014, 12:42 PM
I am curious to what these brewer's names are? I don't want to hire these guys for anything.

Rhombus

C Sturdavant
10-11-2014, 10:09 PM
Thank you to all that have responded to my question, and thank you for the advice.
We did have an attorney write a letter to my former employees and they have agreed to return the missing paper files and to recreate the digital files with one stipulation...that we don't turn them in to the TTB.
Thank you again,
Charlie Sturdavant

FatBrewer
11-02-2014, 07:35 AM
Personally, I would get back what's yours and then do an Aliens.