Federal Court Says You Can’t Copyright a Chicken Sandwich

The disputed Pechu Sandwich.
The disputed Pechu Sandwich. Photo: Church’s Chicken

A Church’s Chicken employee got a cold, hard Intellectual Property 101 lesson yesterday when the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit took the time and resources to inform him that chicken sandwiches are, in fact, not copyrightable.

The backstory on this legal long shot starts in 1987, when the litigant, a man named Norbeto Colón Lorenzana who worked for the chain in Puerto Rico, start arguing that he invented the Pechu Sandwich — which is quite popular among locals. Because he thought it up, Colón maintains that the sandwich itself — a remarkably uninventive menu item consisting of a bun, fried chicken, lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and mayo that’s been around since 1991 — is his intellectual property. Flash-forward to last year, and that’s when Colón finally took legal action against the local franchisee, South American Restaurant Corporation, for the royalties he believes he, owner of this sandwich, is due. (For good measure, he also claimed the franchisee somehow committed fraud by trademarking the name.)

In its decision, the court firmly schools Colón on how sandwich recipes aren’t own-able things, writing, “a recipe — or any instructions — listing the combination of chicken, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and mayonnaise on a bun to create a sandwich is quite plainly not a copyrightable work.” The lesson here: A grand jury, as the saying goes, could indict a ham sandwich, but nobody gets to copyright one.


Federal Court Says You Can’t Copyright a Chicken Sandwich