Recently on Good Morning Amercia, Hilton's CEO Chris Nassetta appeared to talk about Hilton's 100th Anniversary.

It was discussed, amongst other things, how Hilton has had many 'firsts', including first hotel room TV, first room service, first piña colada etc. One of the things Nassetta claimed Hilton invented is the chocolate brownie - first baked by one of the chefs at Chicago's Palmer House Hilton.

Looking at the wikipedia page for the Chocolate Brownie, this seems to check out:

"Bertha Palmer, a prominent Chicago socialite whose husband owned the Palmer House Hotel. In 1893 Palmer asked a pastry chef for a dessert suitable for ladies attending the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. She requested a cake-like confection smaller than a piece of cake that could be included in boxed lunches. The result was the Palmer House Brownie with walnuts and an apricot glaze."

However, a quick read of the Wikipedia page for the hotel, we find that this Hotel did not become part of the Hilton chain until 1945, 52 years after the brownie was invented.

"In December 1945, Conrad Hilton bought the Palmer House for $20 million and it was thereafter known as The Palmer House Hilton. In 2005, Hilton sold the property to Thor Equities, but it remains part of the Hilton chain."

My question is: Is it legal for a company to claim ownership of a product if they buy the place in which it was created?

  • Why would this be a legal issue? – user4210 May 31 '19 at 10:14
  • I was unsure if claiming ownership of something has any intellectual property or licensing ramifications. It may not, but this was the most relevant site I could think of. If this is better suited to another StackExchange, please let me know. – James May 31 '19 at 10:22

In the US, in general anyone can claim anything. Others are free to believe or disbelieve the claim. In theory, a person might base their decision to do business with Hilton partly on this particular claim (this is why some software companies start presentations about their new features with a Safe Harbor statement letting the audience know not to base purchasing decisions on unreleased features), and in that case they could argue that Hilton's claim damaged them by causing them to enter into a contract under false pretenses. I doubt such a case would be meritorious, but there could be some contrived situation where the point of whether Hilton owned the hotel when it invented the brownie was actually important.


Utility patents in the United States used to expire after 17 years, now they expire after 20 years. If there was a patent on the original chocolate brownie, it is long expired.

A form of protection that can last indefinitely is the trademark, but there doesn't seem to be any trademark in this situation.

A brownie is not a work within the meaning of the copyright law, so that form of intellectual property protection does not apply.

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