Food was once a necessity. Food was then, a delicacy. Food is now, an experience!

First impressions are most certainly lasting impressions. This proverb is applicable to a lot of things, but it has new-found importance in the food and hospitality industry. A dine-out evening at a restaurant not only involves food that is ‘healthy and tasty’, but also food that looks beautiful and is plated in some intriguing manner. It is a traditional belief that food is not only ingested, but also consumed through eyes, ears and touch (are you also thinking of Sizzlers?!). Such theories have made chefs and hoteliers all around the world innovate and create different styles and methods of presenting everyday dishes in unique and unprecedented ways.

Our intellectual property laws have developed a lot over the past few decades. Gone are the days when the general conception that IP is ‘copyrights for books’ and ‘patents for inventions’. Today, so much as a coined word for a food product (for eg: “Frappucino” for cold coffee) can be protected under the trademark law. Something as simple and basic as the manner of folding a paper packet for selling tobacco can be protected under patent law and something as unitary and basic as a circuit board can be protected under SIC/ Layout Design laws. Thus, at each step where you can add creativity, either scientific or artistic, you are entitled to IP protection, thanks to the advanced and exhaustive IPR framework.

Food plating or food sculpture, as it is popularly referred to, is as much a science as it is a skill to be honed. Chefs all over the world are sought after and known for their self-developed culinary skills and presentation styles.

Food plating is an unconventional art and therefore it would be interesting to determine the type of IP under which will it be protected. The photographs of dishes will obviously be protected under general copyright laws for photographs. However the applicability of the law relating to the actual freshly made “Dishes” per se is a question one must ponder upon.


In India, the Copyright Act, 1957 under Section 2(c) defines “artistic work” as:

2(c) “artistic work” means,—

(i) a painting, a sculpture, a drawing (including a diagram, map, chart or plan), an engraving or a photograph, whether or not any such work possesses artistic quality;

(ii) a work of architecture; and

(iii) any other work of artistic craftsmanship

A sculpture is further defined as:

2(za) “work of sculpture” includes casts and models

Food plating is to chefs, what brands are to corporations. Food presentation will therefore fall within the definition of artistic work and work of sculpture. If such presentation is original it will be eligible for copyright protection. Copyrighting a dish will help in creating an exclusive association between the chef and his dish. It will also give him/ her the right to restrain other chefs/ hotels/ restaurants from copying the manner in which he/ she presents the dishes.

In other countries, such as the US, food presentation is also protected under Design laws. For example, the CHEESECAKE MARTINI DESSERT bearing US D525,761 S was granted design registration in the year 2006. In India, design protection cannot be granted to food dishes as the definition of a ‘design’ requires that the subject article be created using an industrial process. Food Plating is associated with the artist’s skill and expertise of sculpting out a uniquely presented dish from an ordinary dish and therefore cannot be associated with an industrial process. There are no design registrations with respect to dishes per se, even though those related to the manner of wrapping a croissant, preparation of cakes etc. are present.


Photo Courtesy: We thank Malaka Spice for sharing the photographs of these beautiful dishes.


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