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Sustainability Through Innovation: IP Strategies for Meat Alternatives

Sustainability Through Innovation: IP Strategies for Meat Alternatives

News 23/01/2024

Whilst experiencing a slow-down over the last few years, the plant-based and cell-based (e.g., lab-grown) meat market remains a significant growth opportunity. Fuelled by environmental concerns (for example, meat alternatives may help bring-down carbon emissions as compared to animal meat production), as well as ethical and health considerations, this sector is attracting innovative startups and established multi-national companies alike.

However, many challenges remain, such as achieving price parity with animal meats, achieving the same textures and tastes as real meats, and addressing consumer concerns relating to the level of processing of such foods. Further innovation is required if meat alternatives are to reach the mainstream, and standing out in this competitive landscape necessitates robust intellectual property (IP) protection.


Why Prioritize IP in the Meat Alternative Space?

Safeguard Novel Solutions: Through innovation, groundbreaking formulations and production processes may be developed to replicate the taste and sensory experience of animal meat. Patents may shield your unique products or processes, providing a decisive competitive advantage.

Attract Capital and Collaborators: Strong IP portfolios showcase your innovative prowess, making you a magnet for investors and strategic partners. It signals your commitment to protecting valuable assets and building a sustainable business.

Carve Out Your Market Share: In a crowded marketplace, a robust IP portfolio allows you to carve out your niche and establish a distinct brand identity. Think of it as your moat, preventing competitors from encroaching on your territory.

Generate Lucrative Revenue Streams: Patents are not just defensive tools. Licensing your technology can create lucrative revenue streams, further fuelling your growth and innovation.


Navigating the Patent Landscape

Searches of published patent rights (using public databases) reveal this field is already teeming with patent applications and granted patents.  There are many research organisations and companies active in this area, with some example patent strategies illustrated below:

Ingredient IP: It may be possible to achieve grant of product claims, if it can be established that the combination of ingredients used to formulate the meat-substitute result in any unexpected technical effect(s).  By way of three different examples:

    • The Los Angeles- based company, Beyond Meat, have developed meat alternatives using proteins derived from peas, mung beans and rice, using beetroot to replicate bleeding from real burgers, and coconut oil and cocoa butter to provide marbling to replicate the texture of real meats. This company have reached a commercial agreement with McDonald’s leading to the development of the McPlant burger. Beyond Meat have achieved patent protection in the USA for meat structured, non-animal protein products comprising cell wall material (see, e.g., US11019836B2) and are pursuing patent protection for further meat-like food products around the world (see, e.g., national patent applications derived from international publication, WO2017070303A1).


    • Impossible Food (another Californian start-up) have developed meat alternatives using a genetically engineered strain of yeast to produce a plant-based heme (soy leghemoglobin). This company have reached a commercial agreement with Burger King leading to the development of the Impossible Whopper. Impossible Food has achieved patent protection in the USA for food products comprising such heme (see, e.g., US10863761B2, US9943096B2 and related patents or applications around the world).  Impossible Food have actively sought to use their US patents to restrict other heme-based meat alternatives entering the US market, with ongoing litigation against Motif FoodWorks (a Boston based start-up developing a heme-binding protein found in cows). The validity of Impossible Foods’ US ‘906 is currently being challenged by Inter Partes Review (IPR), so it will be interesting to see how these product claims hold up in the USA.


    • Israeli start-up, Redefine Meat, are a food 3D printing firm developing animal-free meat. Their formula mimics flank steak (rather than burgers) and is built around a mix of soy and pea protein, chickpeas, beetroot, yeasts, and coconut fat. This company is seeking to develop a patent portfolio surrounding their 3D-printed beef substitute (see, e.g., the national patents derived from international publications WO2020152689A1, W02021095034A1, WO2021191906A1, WO2022079717A1). Such a strategy may help capture market share for cell-based meats, hence attract investment, provide licensing opportunities, and grant a significant competitive edge for this company going forwards.


Processing Techniques: Impossible Foods' iconic "bleeding" burger is not just a marketing gimmick; their unique heme production and texturizing processes may also be provisionally covered through various process patent applications (see., e.g., the national patent applications derived from international publication WO2023200792A1). In territories including Europe, a further strategy may be to pursue so-called “product-by-process” claims, where the composition itself is defined in terms of its manufacture (see, e.g., EP4301151A1). Beyond Meat produce texture to their products by extrusion and such processes may be covered, for example, by US9526267B2. Redefine Meat’s printing systems are provisionally covered, for example, by national patents derived from WO2022079718A1. These examples may illustrate the strategic importance of guarding proprietary processing techniques too.


Cell Lines and Production Methods:  Impossible Food also have patent claims directed to the yeast cell lines which may be used to produce the plant-based heme used in their plant-based meat (see, e.g., WO2023114395A1).   For cell-based meat, the cell lines used to produce lab-grown meats may also be covered by patent claims. For example, such patent claims may cover innovative cultivation methods and bioreactors, which may be needed to scale-up processes to make them cost-effective. Companies such as Eat Just Inc., are developing serum-free media, to seek to reduce costs for cultured meat manufacturer, and such media which may be used in cell production methods may potentially also be covered by patent claims. This further highlights the multi-faceted approach which may be taken to protect cell-based innovations.


In summary, the patent landscape surrounding artificial meats is dynamic. The key takeaway? Navigating the IP jungle requires a nuanced understanding of different approaches and tailoring strategies to your specific product and goals.


Secerna: Your Trusted Partner in IP Strategy

At Secerna, we have the specialized expertise to navigate the intricacies of the IP landscape in this dynamic field. Our team of seasoned professionals helps you in:

Assessing Patentability: We provide a clear evaluation of your invention's patentability and guide you through the patent application process with precision.

Crafting Tailored IP Portfolios: We do not just file patents; we build comprehensive IP strategies tailored to your specific goals and market realities.

Securing Your Trade Secrets: From proprietary recipes to unique bioprocessing techniques, we ensure your trade secrets stay confidential and safe from unauthorized disclosure.

Enforcing Your Rights: Should infringement occur, we stand by you, helping you enforce your IP rights and secure the compensation you deserve.

Do not let your groundbreaking creation get lost in the market maelstrom. Take charge of your future. Contact Secerna today and let us turn your protein alternative vision into a reality.


Are you developing cell-based meat or meat-free alternatives? Contact Secerna today to discuss your IP strategy and ensure you are positioned for success in this competitive market. We will help you safeguard your innovation, attract the right partners, and secure your place at the forefront of the protein revolution.