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Friday, November 7, 2014

How ex-Frito Lay interns gave away valuable creative services for free

In a world of opportunism, gray areas within business ethics and corporate law inevitably get exploited. The Taco Bell Locos Doritos taco is an example of just how spicy things can get. This is evident in a recent revelation that a group of interns from the 1990s claim to have actually invented the concept of a Doritos Taco. Moreover, the Huffington Post reports that a former intern named Andrea Watt developed the idea with three other interns and has the pictures to prove it.

What is the "Doritos Locos Taco"?

According to Taco Bell, the Doritos Locos Taco is described as follows:
Doritos Locos Taco
Doritos Locos Tao resembled intern's creation
”A Taco Supreme® made with premium seasoned beef, crisp lettuce, diced juicy red ripe tomatoes, real cheddar cheese, topped with cool reduced-fat sour cream, in a shell made from Nacho Cheese Doritos® Chips”.
This product was made available to the public on March 8, 2012 and is reported to have already generated over $1 billion in revenue. Moreover, since the Doritos Locos Taco is actually a Taco Supreme, it is not actually the Taco that has been recreated as much as the shell.

Intern's argument

The issue with the Doritos Locos Taco is that it resembles a possible, but potentially ethical transgression of creative attribution. In other words, the former intern wants recognition for something she contributed to regardless of any formal rights to that recognition. In terms of common decency, human respect and other similar notions, the intern's complaint seems to have merit, but does it? Perhaps not in a corporate context that must protect itself from giving away too much credit in fear of being sued in a similar way Facebook was by the Winklevoss twins. They were the ones who claimed to have developed the idea behind Facebook.

Legal validity

A problem with the argument made by Andrea Watt is that U.S. law does not protect “ideas, systems or methods of operation” per the U.S. Copyright Office. More specifically, although ideas can be copied, it is only the expression of those ideas that may be legally owned. Since expression itself already seems like an unclear term, the legal basis of what the Doritos Locos Taco actually is has the potential for many differentiating nuances and subtleties. Employer regulations may also have little extra to add to the intern's argument as it requires an “educational” element for unpaid internships that may be argued to have been actualized via the contest within which the idea was spawned. Moreover, if the interns were paid, then the giving up rights by virtue of employment also becomes a possible issue.

Problems with resolution

Distinct differences with the expression of the Doritos Taco proposed by Watt and her fellow interns, and that sold by Taco Bell challenge the claim of concept creation. First of all, the interns' taco featured by the Huffington Post is triangular whereas the Taco Bell one is not. Secondly, the Taco Bell taco is called the “Doritos Locos Taco” while the interns creation was referred to as “Dorito Tacos”; the documented executive feedback about using the brand name “Doritos” with the taco idea doesn't seem to help their case. In addition, as Watt is quoted as having stated, if any legal waivers were signed prior to the idea competition, then that may have transferred rights of ownership to the contest sponsor or corporation.

The line that marks the creative merit of ideas is one that humans cross on a daily basis whether it be the remaking of old-story lines in a different film or the replication of a successful new football formation. The Taco Bell Doritos Locos Taco seems to be no exception to this rule. Several people have already claimed they created the Doritos Taco idea before Watts came forward, and one man even sued Taco Bell for it per the Daily Business Review. Thus, not only has the creation of the Doritos Locos Taco become an issue, but so does the question of whether or not corporate public acknowledgement of that creation has the potential to quickly become a slippery legal slope granting costly financial rights to idea creators.

Image: theimpulsivebuy, "Taco Bell fiery Doritos Locos Taco"; CC BY-SA 2.0