After cyberspace, the new frontier of copyright legislation could be the kitchen - if the Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi has his way. Yesterday, in the gambling resort of Campione d'Italia (an enclave of Italian territory at the Swiss end of Lake Como), Marchesi launched his revolutionary proposal, in a conference entitled "The cook's signature: copyright in the kitchen". For Marchesi, this is a grudge match. "One of my most famous creations is the raviolo aperto [open raviolo]. A few years back I had a young chef who worked with me for a while. Then he went off to work for another great chef. And what do I find when I open that chef's latest book? A recipe for raviolo aperto! I'm not saying that I should be paid royalties every time the raviolo aperto recipe is used - just that I should be credited as its creator."
Like any self-respecting Italian chef, Marchesi is quick to drag Michelangelo in: "A cook is an artisan, but so were the great artists ... like Michelangelo."
But master chef Nico Ladenis is quick to pour cold water on such pretensions: "One man's open raviolo is another man's skewed lasagne," he sniffs. Nico presides over Chez Nico in Park Lane, and belongs, like Marchesi, to the exclusive circle of Michelin three-star chefs. "Applying copyright law to recipes is the most preposterous suggestion I've ever heard," he begins. "Cooking has always been about imitation. The most a great chef can hope for is to have created one original dish in his life."
The idea that the world of haute cuisine will soon be alive with the sound of litigation might be expected to warm the cockles of any lawyer's heart. But Kevin Garnet QC, one of Britain's leading copyright lawyers, is sceptical. "Under existing British law, in order for copyright to apply, you have to be able to slot your creation into an existing category - it must be an original literary, artistic or dramatic work. A book of recipes would qualify, therefore, but not a dish created by a chef in a restaurant." Garnet suggests the idea is as doomed as a recent attempt to copyright sporting manoeuvres such as the Fosbury Flop.
But there are those who think Marchesi is on to something. Robin Weir, co-author of Ices: the Definitive Guide, would welcome a code of practice in which recipes are at the very least credited to their original creators. He advises those who believe that they have stumbled on the recipe of a lifetime to write it down and post it to themselves by recorded delivery.
It has to be worth the price of a stamp. Just think of what you would stand to gain if Steven Spielberg ever bought the film rights to your "Smoked John Dory on a Bed of Coriander, Lightly Dusted with Powdered Myrtle Root and served with a Calvados Sauce".