Impossible Foods sues startup Motif Foodworks over meatless burger patent infringement, claiming the Boston-based startup copied its technology for replicating the taste of animal meat.
Impossible Foods (Plaintiff) had launched its plant-based burger which had the features of yeast- which was derived from leghemoglobin, or heme, in 2016 and received a patent for it in 2020. Heme acts as a key ingredient for conventional meat, which creates meaty aromas and caramelized, beefy notes when cooked with other ingredients like amino acids, sugars and vitamins. It also makes meat-free burgers appear pink and “bleed” when being prepared.
Along with Beyond Meat, Impossible has helped to rejuvenate the market for vegetarian burgers. Several other companies have jumped on the trend, ranging from industry giants to small start-ups.
Motif Foodworks (Defendant) was launched in 2019. Ginkgo co-founder and CEO Jason Kelly said to CNBC that Impossible’s success inspired the formation of Motif, which had developed key ingredients for making plant-based proteins and left the rest to food companies. Motif FoodWorks had introduced Hemami, a yeast-derived heme protein for use in plant-based meat alternatives, late last year i.e 2021. The Food and Drug Administration had assured the ingredient as “generally recognized as safe.”
The lawsuit was filed in Delaware Federal Court on March 9, 2022 claiming Motif’s Hemami technology infringes on an Impossible Foods patent for a meat alternative that contained heme. Impossible Foods had a patent registered for a “beef replica product” which contained, among other things, “a muscle replica of between 0.1% and 5% heme-containing protein.”
According to Impossible, its patent covered the invention of a beef substitute that uses a muscle replica including a heme-containing protein, at least one sugar compound and one sulfur compound. It also protects against the invention of a meat alternative through a fat tissue replica that uses at least one plant oil and a denatured plant protein.
The company also alleges that Motif FoodWorks had opportunities to obtain non-public information regarding its proprietary methods for making the heme protein. It also referenced marketing claims from Motif that depict Hemami as a substitute for its proprietary technology.
To this Motif FoodWorks said that it does not produce or sell finished plant-based meat alternatives, but it has created products for demonstrations at trade shows. It had also acquired a partnership with a restaurant chain named Coolgreens for consumer testing. Impossible Foods identified those activities as patent infringement, alleging Motif has “actively induced its business partners to make, use, sell and/or offer for sale the infringing burger.” The company is also asking for an undisclosed amount of money and an order blocking the sale of the products made with Hemami.
A statement was given to CNBC by Impossible Foods that there is a huge round of applause to other companies’ efforts who have developed compelling plant-based products, but it will not be tolerated if attempts are made to undermine their brand or products through deliberate and unauthorized infringement of their intellectual property.
A spokesperson from Motif FoodWorks refuted the claims made in the lawsuit, telling that the complaint is nothing more than a baseless attempt by Impossible Foods to stifle competition, limit consumer choice and impede Motif, a new and innovative company with significant business momentum.
This case study has been written by Kinnari Bhatt during her internship with MikeLegal
Image Source: https://www.foodmanufacturing.com/