Companies see a potential goldmine in animal-free alternatives—and are protecting their intellectual property.
Manufacturing Blog: High Stakes for Fake Meat
Aug 17, 2021
by Kirk Teska
Predictably, the main players in this emerging market are busy patenting their creations.
One challenge for inventors is that it is very difficult to patent recipes, even for meat substitutes.
The discovery of a previously unappreciated property of a known ingredient, in the eyes of the Patent Office, is generally not patentable. But process patents and tools and equipment used to make the product are fodder for patenting food products, and under the right circumstances the Patent Office will grant patents for recipes.
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Beyond Meat (actually Savage River, Inc.) won Patent No. 9,926,267 on December 24, 2016, for a process of producing a “nutrient-dense meat structured protein product.” In its process, non-animal protein fibers and water are combined to make a dough, which is sheared and heated to denature the proteins and align the protein fibers and then a nutrient or two are added.
Beyond has a few other applications pending one of which, currently on appeal at the patent office, covers an actual meat-like food product (rather than a process).
Beyond Meat also protects its “Beyond” family of trademarks—Beyond Burger, Beyond Sausage, Beyond Fried Chicken, and so on—by opposing competitors who attempt to register, at the Trademark Office, any mark including the word “Beyond.” If you want to trademark “Beyond Wings,” “Beyond Milk,” “Beyond Tortillas,” or “Beyond Butter,” be prepared for a battle. So far, Beyond meat has been successful against such competitors.
Impossible Foods also has a patent and several pending patent applications. No. 9,808,029 (November 7, 2017) is for a ground beef-like product with heme-containing protein, glucose, plant proteins. According to the patent, “Cooking the ground beef-like product results in the production of at least two volatile compounds which have a beef-associated aroma.” Heme is a molecule that contains iron and is found in the blood of humans and in some plants.
According to Impossible Foods, “heme is what makes meat taste like meat.”
Another approach is to use real meat tissues, just without the involvement of animals.
Memphis Meats, together with the University of Missouri, won Patent No. 10,920,196 on February 16, 2021, for an in vitro method of producing cultured meat. A special stem cell line is modified to produce myocytes and multinucleated myotubes which are cultured to generate skeletal muscle fibers.
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Hampton Creek, Inc. (Eat Just) received Patent No. 9,760,834 (September 12, 2017) for an artificial intelligence-based method of screening plants for proteins useful in food ingredients.
Other Eat Just pending patent applications are for egg substitutes derived from beans or peas, and the company has also acquired a few patents for engineered meat, such as Nos. 6,835,390 and 7,270,829.
Reportedly, even the big meat packers and food conglomerates, such as Tyson and Perdue, are getting into the meat alternative market, but if they have received any patents, I couldn’t find them.
While recent consumer interest is driving this patent rush, inventors have been exploring the field for decades. Patent No. 3,912,824 (1974), for example, provides a process whereby “non-meat proteinaceous materials such as soybeans” are converted into a “palatable food product” which “resembles animal meat or the meat of fowl.”
It is, however, hard to imagine the advertising campaign declaring, “Palatable food product, it’s what’s for dinner.”
Kirk Teska is the managing partner of Iandiorio, Teska, and Coleman, LLP, an adjunct professor at Suffolk Law, and the author of two books: Patent Savvy for Managers and Patent Project Management.