5 Ridiculous Lengths Companies Have Gone to Protect Their Intellectual Property
We here at Cracked understand the importance of protecting one’s intellectual property. In fact, we’ve been known to take our own extreme measures to bust the buttmunches who jank our stuff, so we’re not judging anyone for covering their industrial asses. However, even we have to agree that some of these folks could probably chill.
Possibly the most mythical secret in modern business is the recipe for Coca-Cola, which is said to be protected by two executives who each know only half of it and locked in a vault not even a Nicolas Cage character could crack. The reality isn’t quite so extreme, but it’s still pretty silly.
The “two executives” thing is indeed official company policy, which it appears to take so seriously that the executives aren’t allowed on the same airplane, but they both know the whole recipe and the policy hasn’t always been strictly enforced. As for the vault, it’s there for the visiting at the World of Coca-Cola museum, not protected by anything more than a velvet rope and the carbo-cops.
Still, the company is so fussy over its formula that when it was faced with Indian legislation requiring it to hand the recipe over in 1977, Coca-Cola pulled a Soda Nazi and declared no Coke for India for 16 years. It could have also been the country’s demand to transfer at least 60 percent of Coca-Cola India’s shares to Indian shareholders, but you know. Definitely one of those things.
Meanwhile, everything you’ve heard about Coca-Cola is true about everyone’s favorite non-sexual lubricant. In fact, the company is so secretive about its formula that half of the product’s ingredients are mixed in one factory and the other half in another, to be combined at yet another factory so no one needs to know it. According to the company, only one person does, presumably former CEO Garry Ridge, who is presumably not allowed to fly with anyone.
Ridge is the only person who’s ever moved the only written copy of the formula out of its vault, which has happened just twice. The first time, he donned a suit of armor he claimed was meant to protect the formula as he rode it into Times Square on a horse for the company’s 50th anniversary. But like all of us in the early 2000s, he was probably just really into A Knight’s Tale. The second time, he was handcuffed to a suitcase containing the formula as he was escorted by armored car to a new vault, though it would have been really funny to secretly swap it with an empty case and throw away the key.
Thomas’ English Muffins
The nooks and crannies of an English muffin are right up there with Tilda Swinton’s eyebrows and the bong of that big clock as one of the most strangely satisfying gifts from the United Kingdom, and one manufacturer has staked its livelihood on maximizing them. Thomas’, the company that claims “The Original English Muffin,” not only keeps its recipe safe by storing it in a secret location, it splits it up between several different manuals that it calls “code books” so that tracking one down only gives you part of the puzzle. If that’s not intriguing enough, Thomas’ legally barred a former vice president from taking another job in a saga straight out of a corporate thriller by some white dude whose name you only vaguely recall but sells more books than God.
It all started in 2010, when Chris Boticella, then vice president in charge of baking operations and one of the seven people who knew the full recipe, announced that he was leaving the company. He’d allowed his colleagues to believe he was retiring, but he’d actually been poached by Hostess, who apparently wanted to get its cream in some crannies. Records of Boticella’s computer activity showed that, in his final days with the company, he’d decided to “practice his computer skills” by transferring a bunch of confidential files to a flash drive. The courts didn’t buy that obvious lie, and he was legally forced to turn down the Hostess job.
Business guys are always threatening that people will “never work in this town again,” but Thomas’ actually made good on it. Do not fuck with the English muffin people.
Thomas’ isn’t the only company that went the Captain Planet route by stashing parts of its recipe in different places. Dr. Pepper claims to have ripped its blend of 23 flavors in two (though not perfectly, obviously, which must have begat some jealousy) and deposited each half in a different bank in Dallas, just in case of beverage-minded robbers, apparently. It also only divulged the formula to three executives, though it’s unclear whether they’re allowed to attend the same tropical corporate retreats.
One thing Dr. Pepper will tell you is what it’s not, which is prune juice. It’s unclear how this rumor took hold, but the best evidence historians have to go on suggest some competitor’s deliveryman started it because both drinks are brown, Dr. Pepper does taste kind of pruney, and prune juice is famous for its laxative effects, and he wanted people to worry that Dr. Pepper would make them poop. It goes all the way back to 1930, which, if nothing else, proves the power of the poop joke.
Who do you think goes the nuttiest when it comes to guarding the corporate secrets? Google? Tesla? Nope, it’s the Colonel. His proprietary blend of 11 herbs and spices are, much like WD-40, mixed at separate facilities, and unlike the Coke vault, KFC’s Louisville lair is protected by a security system designed by an expert whose clients include international royalty. It boasts a ceiling and floor of two-foot concrete, motion sensors, cameras, round-the-clock armed guards and a lock that must be opened by two people with two keys and two PINs simultaneously. It’s Mission Impossible: Finger-Lickin’ Good.
At least, it was. Since 2022, it might be worthless. That was the year a reporter noticed, while examining the Colonel’s wife’s estate documents, a handwritten recipe that happened to consist of 11 herbs and spices. KFC refused to confirm or deny its authenticity, likely because, by their own admission, they don’t know the recipe themselves, but it would be a hell of a coincidence for Mrs. Colonel to have just decided one day to write down the 11 herbs and spices she likes best. Here’s hoping that security expert offers refunds.