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Hello fellow Kossacks!! Hugs all around!! It's been a very long while since I've posted, I never meant to go so quiet for so long (aside from a few times I just couldn't help myself from jumping in, I've been pretty much a lurker around here since last December) but it was for the good reason that I started my own personal chef business.

It's been an interesting 3/4th of a year, that's for sure. Definitely a rough time to be starting up a business in this economy. But, of course, as it has many times before, my life took a totally unexpected and quirky turn: I invented something.  Unintentionally. And I am such a noob at intellectual property and trademarks and patents and such that even after months of online tutorial from the Patent office, and having the Free Library of Philadelphia at my doorstep,  I'm coming hat-in-hand to the community with this diary, in hopes that someone out there might know what I do for my next step. I can't afford to make a mistake - I'm betting the pitiful scrapings of my retirement account, which was meager to start, hasn't seen a contribution in 10 years, and now will be decimated from all the damn penalties involved from early withdraw - to try to finance my dream and make my invention a real product.

So here's what happened:

As a cook, I'm always throwing together new concoctions and playing with my food, so it's not new to be trying something new in my kitchen (living with a cook can be both a blessing and a curse for family members).  But this time, I was trying to solve a different problem, and I ended up solving it with an idea that I then realized, Hey, I could sell this! To actual people!  

The problem I was trying to solve is this recipe:

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Ingredients:

1 pack boneless skinless chicken breasts
8 oz brick Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1/2 - 3/4 bottle Franks RedHot Buffalo Wing Sauce
1 Jar Marie's Chunky Blue Cheese Salad Dressing

Method:
Salt & Pepper the chicken breasts and bake at 350F until fully cooked (at least 165F internal temp). Remove from oven, and using forks or tongs, shred the chicken very finely into a very large bowl. Mix in Cream Cheese, Wing Sauce, and Blue Cheese Dressing, and stir to combine well. Place mixture in oven-safe serving bowl*. (Can be made-ahead up to this step up to 2 days in advance, covered, and held in refrigerator.) Return mixture to pre-heated 350F oven and cook until completely hot and bubbly, stirring every 15 minutes. (Takes about 30 minutes from "warm" or 45-50 minutes from fridge.)

*I use Corningware's French White deep round casserole - you need a good inch of space at the top of this for expansion and stirring while it's cooking so it doesn't drip out all over the oven

It's not my own recipe. I make most of my own stuff from scratch, but this one, my whole family has been making for about 10 years now. We usually serve it with Scoops corn chips as it's a very heavy, hearty dip and the other chips break. People LOVE this dip recipe. So much that I get asked to bring it everywhere - clients, school functions, friends' parties - basically, it's so damned good that I wish I could make it in bulk, but the problem with it is that you have to make it fresh. Like all cream cheese based dips, it breaks if you freeze it, and while the flavors all still taste pretty good, the emulsion is lost and it separates and the texture becomes blobs of creamy goo in a pool of orange-colored hot sauce oil. Very unattractive, and not something anyone would want to serve to guests or pay a personal chef or caterer for.

So while I was working on the business this spring, I looked ahead to this summer, and one of the services I offered was a package of handmade frozen appetizers, stromboli, bread puddings, and hors d'oeuvres for clients who have vacation houses down the shore. (It's a Philadelphia regional dialect thing - lots of people bug out of the hot city for the breezy South Jersey barrier islands in the summer, and we all say we're going "down the shore". When we say we're going "to the beach" we mean the sandy part touching the ocean.) Well, of course people who've tasted the delicious hot dip wanted the delicious hot dip, and were very disappointed that they couldn't get it frozen to reheat when people come over unexpectedly.  People with shore houses always have people coming over, even if they didn't necessarily invite people to come over, hence the "unexpectedly"... so most of them just load up the garage with beer and the freezers with frozen stuff and prefer to be prepared instead of genuinely surprised. Renting or owning a shore house for the summer means you'll never know a weekend without friends. Ever. Not even if you beg, park your car a block away, and draw the curtains like nobody's home.

So I was trying to come up with a party dip that freezes and reheats without breaking for my shore house clients. Something that wouldn't separate, but could be heated up and go from the freezer to the table without needing hours of thaw time in the refrigerator, so it could be used for the spontaneous pop-up entertaining of these shore clients, and still feed a crowd with hearty appetites from hours of sun, sand and surf. Something that would go really, really good with frozen margaritas, and ice cold beer...

Well, I did.

But then I realized if I put it into a packaging option other than the Corningware casseroles that my clients all used, it could be sold for real, not just as one caterer cooking for a few clients who can afford such a service, and who keep reusing the same dishes. A little more experimenting, a lot more tweaking, and then the obligatory total meltdown sobbing drama of factoring up the recipe from one bowl into a 10-pound batch standardized recipe measuring ingredients by weight and making sure it held "true". Along the way, my hot dip invention proved it can be microwaved. (Not in 10-pound batches, but enough dip to feed about 15-20 people.) Literally going from 0 degrees Fahrenheit to burn-your-mouth hot in 5 minutes, without turning into a brick or burning or becoming rubberized gunk or oily slop. And I did it all in my own kitchen, no chemicals, no preservatives, no artificial anything, no food scientists or flavor engineers. I spent 6 weeks looking for the greenest packaging options I could find, but unfortunately those options were limited due to the fat content. (Hey all this and low cal too? What, are you nuts? It's party dip! It tastes like heaven-on-a-plate because it's really Sin-in-a-Bowl. Delicious, delicious sin. Spread it on a little sliced baguette and dreamily bask in the knowledge you really didn't want to live to be 106 anyway.) But I did find the right packaging eventually, and it works like a charm.

And so then I spent 2 more months testing this from frozen to hot, sending some samples to trusted friends and family who signed NDA's and have been sworn to secrecy. I took their feedback and tweaked the recipe again, and I think I'm pretty much THERE. Here. Whatever, I really need to move onto the next step: Dammit Jim, I'm a cook not a patent lawyer.

I've been all over the US Patent & Trademark Office website. They have great tutorials covering the process. You can download and print out everything. You can do all your prior art searches from your home PC! All the forms come with extra forms to tell you how to fill the first forms out. They have staggered rates for broke little moms like me who are "micro entities"... first time in my plus-sized years after cooking school I've been called a micro-anything! Whee! In Patent Office terms I'm a Size 0! But there have been drawbacks as well. Most patents are written in technical jargon, and it is like learning a new language to figure out what some of the existing patents are really saying. I have no facility for turning "Cinnamon's Awesome Shore House Dip" into the correct patent-legalese name of "An Hybrid Emulsification of Foodstuffs Concurrent with Partius Maximus Advantaged by Drinkius Maximus" . I can draw a picture of my dip in a bowl, but I have no idea how to do a technical drawing - and ALL PATENTS MUST HAVE A DRAWING ACCORDING TO GOD AND COUNTRY or apparently the universe as we know it will cease to exist in a moment of philosophical metaphysics disproving the existence of all time and space. And they are not wibbly-wobbly about that one bit. Where's The Doctor when I need him?

But all kidding aside, ALL good advice and common sense says not to go to those firms you see advertised all over TV, the ones where they have the caveman and his little stone wheel.  So now, I'm stuck. I need to move forward, the clock's been ticking ever since I sold this to my first shore clients, and I need to get the application in pronto. But aside from hiring a big law firm, and selling a kidney to pay them, I need some mentoring and guidance  on the little stuff. The name. The drawing. Double-checking that I've got this application targeted right, since after I came up with the dip, I figured out how to do it with different flavor options, different levels of spice and heat, and in the future, once I'm not completely overwhelmed, I would like to develop a lower-calorie, more heart-healthy option, a vegetarian option, and also take what I've learned and maybe come up with other hot dips that could be sold frozen. I want to make sure that some big corporation can't come along and throw in some yellow-#-this and red-#-that and texturized pink slime and drive me out of business and into ruin before I've even paid my start up costs; I want to at least make sure that when they do try to copy my stuff they hafta pay me a licensing fee.

We've got hundreds of thousands of people in the community, not counting the spambots and the trolls from Red State. If anyone has done this before, or knows of nonprofit or government programs (that haven't been cut yet) to get me past this hurdle, please help me get unstuck. If you know of any programs for food manufacturing micro-sized start ups, please let me know, too, because this idea has taken me in such a new and unexpected direction that I am terrified of what I don't know and desperate to learn. Again, I want to stress: I'm broke but I'm not looking for money, investors, or start up capital. I'm not trying to sell my "Awesome Shore Dip" in this post, if you'll notice, I more than happily gave a recipe that people can make at home away for free! (That isn't the secret invention Awesome Dip recipe.)  I can cover the fees with my own resources, scant and dwindling as they are right now. What I need to do is get the intellectual rights locked in, and once that's done, I'd like to find a board-of-health licensed kitchen in the Greater Philadelphia Area (preferably north west or north east of Center City, Montgomery County is fine) that I can use to rent time and space in to make and package my dip for Farmers Markets and little mom-and-pop Grocery Stores and Co-Ops. I'm not ready for the big-time yet. I'm not even able to hire packaging designers or get FDA labeling yet, even though I've been all over that website too. I just want to get that "Patent Pending" on my label right now.

So that's what I've been up to for the past 9 months, and what I hopefully will be up to for many months (and, cross my fingers, years) to come, given that whole "Win the Powerball" financial plan didn't work out for me this week. Thanks for reading this, everyone. And I have been reading here too, most days, in my lurker capacity. Just don't have much time to think up any intelligent responses, or contribute much the discourse, this little blond chef's brain totally fried from reading patents! (Some food patents are completely disgusting, by the way, you would not believe the wretched, nasty stuff that gets put in and done to some "foods".)

Peace.

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Comment Preferences

  •  OK, I've done something wrong (5+ / 0-)

    Had a YouTube video with the Swedish Chef from the Muppet show, and it's not there. Hrrrm. Dammit Jim, I'm a chef not an IT guy.

    Yes, live! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! ~ Auntie Mame

    by Cinnamon on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 10:28:19 AM PDT

    •  I always enjoy the Swedish Chef, so I'm just (5+ / 0-)

      singing the song in my head now.

    •  Dammit, Jim! (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cinnamon, FloridaSNMOM, Avilyn, blueoasis

      I meant to reply to this comment.

      Instead read my comment downthread.

    •  You might also consider writing a cookbook? (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FloridaSNMOM, Avilyn, Cinnamon, blueoasis

      I enjoyed reading your diary!

      “No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people.” ~ my Senator Elizabeth Warren

      by Domestic Elf on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 10:39:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks Domestic Elf! Strangely enough, I have (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Domestic Elf, Avilyn, blueoasis

        Lots of churches and schools do cookbooks for fundraising, and my kid's school is no exception. Last year we were going to do a cookbook, but only had 4 of us doing everything for the PTA. We didn't even have homeroom moms volunteering. It was a pretty hardworking year and the cookbook fundraiser got scrapped because we couldn't pull together a committee.

        That being said, I was the one who researched the different companies that publish the cookbooks, and it is something to think about. Lot of work, though, for just one person.

        Maybe once I have achieved world domination through frozen dips in every supermarket, convenience store, and airport shopping mall I'll need something more useful to do than just hang out with the other rich people. I'm not much into dressage horses and car elevators and tying my dog to the roof of my car.

        Look at Nathan Myhrvold...after making his millions at Microsoft, he wrote Modernist Cuisine. (I can't even afford to buy a copy these days, but it's on my Christmas wishlist to Santa)

        Yes, live! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! ~ Auntie Mame

        by Cinnamon on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 01:27:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  So What You Invented Was a Recipe? (7+ / 0-)

    IANAL but I'd suspect food is like the boats my one-time employer built: the drawings could be copyright, but the boat itself couldn't be copyrighted or patented.

    I made a patentable invention myself, but it's in a small enough market niche that the costs of patenting would've overwhelmed profits. So I never got far into the process.

    Good luck with your project.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 10:34:55 AM PDT

    •  Yes. It's a recipe, but ... (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Avilyn, BachFan, Mr Robert, guyeda, blueoasis

      The dip I made is, well.... imagine another food, let's hypothetically say "wedding cake"  or "potato salad" because everyone will know it's not REALLY  wedding cake or potato salad dip. This food is not normally sold frozen, only fresh, from restaurants. (Most people do not take the trouble to make this at home on their own, and most home kitchens don't have the equipment to do so if they rent' a total food geek like I am.)

       I figured out how to make a dip out of the ingredients, a "hybrid food" dip that is delicious hot, but can be sold to customers in the frozen state. It's not out there, it's NOT in your grocers freezer now. Not by anyone else, any other company.

      But boy do I hope it will be a year from now!!!

      And omg yes it is very, very expensive bringing a product to market. Luckily with food there's a little more leeway with small sizes for exactly my situation - the more i grow, the moe places it's sold, then I get into FDA labeling and, if you can believe it - Homeland Security compliance for food manufacturing. Yikes!

      But thanks for the positive energy - very appreciated :)

      Yes, live! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! ~ Auntie Mame

      by Cinnamon on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 10:49:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I believe this would fall under the category (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Avilyn, CroneWit, blueoasis, Cinnamon

      of a process or method patent.  It's not so much the end product as the steps taken to achieve it.  I believe an analogous product would be something like Velveeta.

  •  In order to embed the video (6+ / 0-)

    you now have to add http: in the code just after src="

  •  Sadly, I can offer nothing for patent advice (6+ / 0-)

    but here's wishing you a boat-load of success with the catering business and the product! Well done!

    “No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people.” ~ my Senator Elizabeth Warren

    by Domestic Elf on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 10:38:13 AM PDT

  •  First thing is DON'T EMPTY YOU RETIREMENT FUND (9+ / 0-)

    Kickstarter or other crowdsourcing is much safer for you.
    And talk to a specialist Patent lawyer, get an estimate of what their service will cost and roll it into the Kickstarter.
    You can launch a product before patenting as long as it's not someone else's patent already. Patent Pending protects you somewhat.
    But the real issue with patents is that they only last so long, You have to be ready to take it to market or already be on the market when that clock starts.
    Good luck
    And I might just make a batch of this for myself for the next potluck, if that's Ok with you.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 10:41:28 AM PDT

    •  Agreed. It was an awful decision to make. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CwV, Avilyn, CroneWit, blueoasis

      Nightmares of me being 70 years old, eating unsold rotting bowls of my dip in a cardboard box under the overpass pretty much haunted me as I came to the decision.

      But there's work to do before Kickstarter can even happen. I can't get on there and say "Fund my Dip! - but I'm not telling you what it looks like, smells like, tastes like, or even the ingredients! - but I'm Legit! Really!!! "  Hehehe.

      Technically the product is considered "launched" the minute I sold it to my first client or even mentioned it in a public way - and so the clock is already ticking. I have 1 year to get that patent application in, and I've been working like crazy to do so.

      I met with my accountant to first discuss the possibility of using the retirement account (he's one of the really good ones in a very big firm, he took me because my parents have used him for years) because the reality of my life is I was afraid this dream would cost me the house, and with my daughter, THAT was too great a risk to take. Even for crazy-chefs-turned-mad-inventors. The accountant hears a lot of pipe dreams, but when I described my dip to him, he perked up and said "I hear a lot of bad business idea, but, seriously, I think you really have a product. That could work. That could be in convenience stores like Wawa and 7-11 in the frozen food section.... Sell to the masses, dine with the classes."

      Patents last 20 years and have to be renewed and fees paid - and spending $12,000 in legal fees and application fees one doesn't actually mean you are guaranteed the patent after going through all of that. Nor do they protect themselves even if you get one. But there are ways to take a product to market very quickly through licensing, and using an established food manufacturer's plant, and we have plenty of them in this area, so I'm geographically very blessed.

      But thanks for the very good idea about Kickstarter - I'm never ruling it out as a future possibility.

      And good luck with the dip for the potluck! My advice on the hot sauce is use the lowest amount of it at first, you can always make it hotter by adding more later but once it's too hot you can't undo that!

      Yes, live! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! ~ Auntie Mame

      by Cinnamon on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 11:37:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Could current customers Kickstart and (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        blueoasis

        crowdsource for/with you?

        People who know and love the dip, and who would like to be able to find a frozen version, might be willing to help with a Kickstart (or similar) crowdfunding effort.  Might they also be able to crowdsource the professionally-skilled people you need to advise you?  (Kind of a 'six degrees of Kevin Bacon' thing -- who knows a patent attorney who has worked with food formulas before?)

        Best of luck to you!

  •  Best of luck to you! I actually came up with an (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cinnamon, Avilyn

    idea of something to create and patent a couple weeks ago.

     I know it is a long, arduous process (my dad had started the patent process many decades ago for a game he created - never happened, mostly due to cost at the time, and he died in 1987!).

    I'll have to start doing some research - you've inspired me!

    Please be sure to come back and tell us of your journey and success.

    "Don't Bet Against Us" - President Barack Obama

    by MRA NY on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 10:54:17 AM PDT

  •  I know nothing about patents, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cinnamon, blueoasis

    but the diary was a great read and it's good 'seeing' you around!  :-)   Best of luck!  

    I would second the suggestion of Kickstarter, with the costs of a patent lawyer and the fees etc. rolled into your goal; or possibly GoFundMe.   (and if you do the kickstarter, let us know, because I would probably back ;)

    The Girl Who Loved Stories
    I’m a feminist because the message is still "don’t get raped" not "don’t rape"

    by Avilyn on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 10:54:56 AM PDT

    •  Thanks Avilyn. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Avilyn, blueoasis

      I though about Kickstarter. I LOVE looking at the projects on there, it's fascinating stuff. Once I have the intellectual property rights locked down, and have some retail sales, that is absolutely on my horizon for the future.

      But beforehand, I need to buy those containers, get labels printed, pay insurance, and keep our house from being foreclosed on as the months grind past -- I looked at the IRA and asked myself if I wanted to invest in Wall Street, or in myself.

      99% baby! For the win!

      Yes, live! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! ~ Auntie Mame

      by Cinnamon on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 11:17:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Downa shore! (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, Avilyn, Cinnamon, CroneWit, blueoasis

    Ahem.

    Most general-practice law firms have "pro bono" programs where attorneys will provide legal services for free ... but I'm not sure whether IP boutique firms do the same sort of thing.

    And IP isn't my area, so I can't suggest any particular firms in the tri-state area.  But check out the PIPLA (Phila intellectual property lawyers' assn) website -- looks like they might be able to do a little "matchmaking" between you and a patent attorney.

    Good luck!

    "Specialization is for insects." -- Heinlein

    by BachFan on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 11:07:15 AM PDT

  •  Pls talk to a local patent lawyer. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cinnamon, Avilyn, CroneWit

    Find a smaller firm if you don't like the big ones. FWIW if you just want to sell it at farmer's markets you probably don't need to patent it.

    •  It's because I am planning to sell it small first (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Avilyn, CroneWit, blueoasis

      that I need the patent most - while I sell at a farmers market, there nothing to stop other people (or big, established companies)  from doing an end-run and selling it nationally, unless I stake ownership of my idea first.

      Yes, live! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! ~ Auntie Mame

      by Cinnamon on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 01:14:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Can they reverse engineer the recipe? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cinnamon

        Anyway, it really looks like you need to talk to smb who does it for living. FWIW, we are working on filing a patent right now and there is no way I would have been able to do a good job on it myself. None of the stuff the patent guys are doing is particularly hard but you just need to know what to do.

        •  Sure. Even I can reverse engineer a recipe (0+ / 0-)

          A cook tasting food is like a musician hearing music. We can duplicate anything we come across unless it's something so wild and amazing that it blows us away and we have to work at it - and then we obsessively work at it or figure out the tool, trick, or magical ingredient that has enthralled us. (Like the tidal wave of Balsamic Vinegar that washed over the US in the 90's) Food trends happen because chef's can steal each other's stuff so easily.

          Yes, live! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! ~ Auntie Mame

          by Cinnamon on Sat Sep 21, 2013 at 05:05:01 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  HEY ALL - 2:40 pm Philly time (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avilyn, CroneWit, blueoasis

    I'm not abandoning my diary, but I gotta go get my kid from school :) and I was too long winded in one comment to thank everyone else properly yet-- Be back in about an hour.

    Yes, live! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! ~ Auntie Mame

    by Cinnamon on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 11:40:35 AM PDT

  •  Can't you get the protection you're seeking (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cinnamon, churchylafemme, CroneWit

    by just keeping the process by which you make the product secret? Companies do that all the time. Coke and Pepsi are good examples. I don't believe they have a patent on the recipe. They don't need it as long as they treat the recipe as a trade secret.

    Read the section that compares a trade secret to patient law. I think that may be what you need to know.

    The only trouble with retirement is...I never get a day off!

    by Mr Robert on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 12:12:03 PM PDT

    •  No, this could be copied by a skilled cook (5+ / 0-)

      Don't overestimate my mad uber culinary skills. This is something that once people try it they'll say, "Oh, wow, why didn't I think of that"... like the Buffalo Chicken Dip. 20 years eating hot wings and then along comes the dip and no more piles of bones at cocktail parties. There are probably a thousand different Buffalo Chicken Dip recipes online these days, made with everything from fat-free to  to ranch dressing to chopped celery. I've tried several - still stand by the old original as the best and easiest.

      My dip is one of those things that people are going to say, "why didn't anyone do this before?" as soon as they even read the real name of it. It won't be copied instantly, but a few good hours of tinkering, or any food lab, and presto. Can't patent and existing technique, can patent a food that was not offered in this format before - ie: nobody can patent peanut butter or jelly, but the guy who figured out to sell them in the same jar together, HE got a patent! Nobody can patent a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but Smuckers got a TON of different patents for both the "foodstuff" and the process, for their frozen Uncrustables.

      Kraft has so many people coming to them with food ideas that they state flat-out that they only pay $5,000 flat rate for ideas that actually get used, and only inf they didn't already have something like it in the works,a dn if it is a provably original idea,  and they strongly suggest that people go get their patents in hand before talking to them, right on their website... so basically never go say "why don't you do XYZ to Kraft because even if they make a billion off the suggestion, you won't be getting the reward.

      Does it sound like I've wasted WAY too many hours obsessively online recently? Why yes, yes it does.

      Yes, live! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! ~ Auntie Mame

      by Cinnamon on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 01:06:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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