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Can You Patent A Steak? (Cont'd)

Detail from an <a href="">application</a> for a patent on a steak.
Detail from an application for a patent on a steak.

"It's an un-obvious chunk of meat that has been sitting there — a little diamond surrounded by a bunch of coal," Steve Price told me last year. "I'd love to tell you more. We just can't."

Today, Price told me everything. More to the point, he emailed me this link:


Price works at Oklahoma State University. The school says its researchers, working with an outside expert, discovered a new steak. They call it the Vegas strip steak. It's hidden somewhere inside a part of a cow that's now commonly used for hamburger, Price told me.

The school is trying to patent the steak (and the method of cutting it out of the carcass of the cow) so it can license the process to big meat companies.

When I talked to Price last year, the details were a secret. Then, last week, all the details were revealed to the world when the patent application was published. That's why Price sent me that link.

Patenting a steak sounds ridiculous on its face. And there's a compelling case that in some industries, such as software, the patent system has run amok and is now doing more harm than good.

But as we found out last year, meat inventors make a decent case for what they do, and for the role patents play in their work. In any case, it's now up to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to decide whether this steak is worthy of a patent. That will take a couple years.

Whatever the USPTO decides, the world now knows how to cut a Vegas Strip Steak out of a dead cow (see the handy diagrams in this PDF).

That's the point of the patent system. The idea is not only to let inventors profit from their work, but also to encourage them to share their discoveries with the world. That information, in turn, should help other inventors make new discoveries, which they can then patent and share with the world.

Inventors who don't want to share their ideas with the world are free to keep them secret — but they can't get a patent if they do that.

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Jacob Goldstein is an NPR correspondent and co-host of the Planet Money podcast. He is the author of the book Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing.