Anticipate This!™ | Patent and Trademark Law Blog

Discovery of Coca-Cola’s Secret Formula?

Posted in Science and Technology by Jake Ward on February 15, 2011

Coca-Cola® soda has been a favorite of ours for quite some time . . . and not just from a taste standpoint.  The registered Coca-Cola® mark with respect to soda products provides a great example in discussing trademark law.  Additionally, the formula behind the Coca-Cola® soda is an excellent tale of trade secret protection.  We often share the story that only two people at the Coca-Cola® company know how to mix the secret “7X flavoring ingredient” at any given time. This is certainly one way of taking reasonable steps to maintain the secrecy of the information!

Interestingly, this recent article discusses the discovery by producers of the radio program This American Life of what appears to be a photo of the original soda formulation.  This photo could render the “trade secret” formulation available for the public to freely make and use.  When the discovered formula was taste-tested, however, it was apparently close . . . but not exactly the same.

Trade secrets, when used properly, can be a useful form of intellectual property protection.  However, this article illustrates one negative aspect of trade secret protection, which is information that becomes publicly available or is otherwise reverse-engineered (assuming no misappropriation or theft of the trade secret under state laws), can limit one’s right to claim and protect the information as “trade secret”. 

For those who are interested in making some original Coca-Cola® soda in their garage and/or bathtub this evening, the “secret” formula (according to the article) is as follows:

The recipe:

Fluid extract of Coca: 3 drams USP
Citric acid: 3 oz
Caffeine: 1 oz
Sugar: 30 (unclear quantity)
Water: 2.5 gal
Lime juice: 2 pints, 1 quart
Vanilla: 1 oz
Caramel: 1.5 oz or more for color

The secret 7X flavor (use 2 oz of flavor to 5 gals syrup):
Alcohol:  8 oz
Orange oil: 20 drops
Lemon oil: 30 drops
Nutmeg oil: 10 drops
Coriander: 5 drops
Neroli: 10 drops
Cinnamon: 10 drops

2 Responses

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  1. patent litigation said, on February 22, 2011 at 3:04 am

    This story illustrates the tenuousness of trade secret IP rights. Although some are starting to view trade secret protection as a viable alternative to patent protection, trade secrets are much more vulnerable — and, once the cat is out of the bag, there is often little recourse for redressing that loss of secrecy. On the other hand, some might say that 40 years (of trade secret protection for Coke) is a pretty good run.

    • Allan Main said, on February 23, 2011 at 10:24 pm

      BUT … the reality is tha the trade secret stands, until there is confidence that what was placed in the public domain was indeed the “secret recipe”. I for one have my doubts; many MANY copiers have played with replicating Coca Cola. I favour this just being one of those that got public release. And by the way, the trade secret has provided a great deal more than “40 years’ protection”. My recall is that Pemberton went to market with Coke in the 1890’s. He has well and truly trumped a patent! Meantime all the IP value has transitioned to reside in the brand. Still a good case study for formula-based IP.


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