Where’s the Beef: Patent Battle Over Artificial Meats

Andrew Masson is an IPilogue Writer and 2L JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

The meat may be fake, but the beef is real between two artificial meat makers. The juggernaut artificial meat producer Impossible Foods is suing the start-up Motif FoodWorks for patent infringement. Impossible Foods claims that the heme technology used by Motif too closely imitates their artificial meat technologies. This case may be significant for the future of alternative meats as it can determine the boundaries of Impossible Food’s patent monopoly on the process of producing alternative meats.

Meat Alternatives

In recent years, there has been more demand and an expansion of food options for vegetarians, vegans, and those looking to reduce their meat consumption. Concerns about sustainability and the environment have driven many people to switch to meat alternatives in order to reduce their carbon footprints. Although the cause may be altruistic, it has also been a very profitable enterprise. Impossible Foods is valued at $9.5 billion and as a startup, Motif is valued at $1.23 billion and has raised $343.5 million from investors such as Bill Gates. Consequently, there is a lot of money to be made in this developing market and Impossible Foods will want to strategically limit its competition.

The Case

Impossible Foods uses a soy leghemoglobin in their beef and pork substitutes, which is produced from genetically modified yeast, whereas Motif uses bovine myoglobin in the production of its heme. However, Impossible Foods claims that the use of heme is an infringement on their intellectual property. Impossible Foods believes that its patent protects against the invention of any beef substitute that uses a muscle replica including the heme-containing protein. Impossible Foods claim that their patent generally covers any heme meat replicate composed of at least one sugar and one sulfur compound or a fat tissue replica that uses at least one plant oil and a denatured plant protein. Motif’s position is that they have not violated the patent agreements and Impossible Foods is acting to stifle competition. It seems to be a disagreement over the extent to which the patent protects processes versus ingredients.

If Impossible Foods can establish strong patent protection of the general process and earn a level of protection  similar to that of drug and medical apparatuses such as injectors, Impossible Foods can limit the ability of competitors to enter the space. In the pharmaceutical sector, wide patent protections have allowed companies to dominate market share and establish monopolies. These monopolies can drive up medical costs, as they have in the USA, due to a lack of competition, demonstrating the possible problems with broad patents . Alternative meats are less likely to create the same issue because there is direct competition with ‘real’ meats and other vegetarian options for alternative meat. Therefore, whether or not Impossible Foods succeeds in this infringement suit, the outcome is unlikely to greatly impact the consumer. However, it could drastically impact Impossible Food’s ability to maintain a significant market share in the artificial meat industry.

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