Disputes about plant-based meat patents between Motif FoodWorks and Impossible Foods continue to deepen as the two food tech companies prepare for a patent infringement trial.
Motif FoodWorks, which uses technology to create ingredients to make plant-based food more like its traditional counterparts, said Wednesday that a European Impossible Foods patent dealing with flavoring and aroma profiles of plant-based food had been revoked by the European Patent Office’s Opposition Panel.
According to a document provided by Motif, the patent was revoked on Dec. 1 following an oral hearing the day before. A longer decision explaining the revocation has not yet been published.
Motif said the company filed the opposition to the patent on grounds that it could stifle innovation and limit competition.
"We agree with the European Patent Office's ruling that Impossible's patent is obvious and look at it as a win for the industry – and a sign of things to come," Motif CEO Michael Leonard said in a written statement. "At the same time, we continue to challenge additional Impossible patents in the U.S. that also limit plant-based innovation and consumer choice."
In an email, a spokesperson from Impossible Foods said the Dec. 1 decision is preliminary, and the review did nothing but compare one of its patents to prior inventions. It does not mean that Impossible’s invention is not novel, the company said.
Impossible, which is appealing the decision, said it is optimistic the preliminary ruling will be overturned.
“Our confidence in our patent portfolio is underscored by the fact that in the U.S., we’ve prevailed against Motif in all of their efforts to have our patent infringement case against them dismissed, delayed, and to challenge the validity of one of our U.S. patents,” the email said. “So far they have failed on all accounts, which reinforces the strength of our case and our patents.”
The decision in Europe has no bearing on Impossible’s U.S. patents, which are at the heart of the dispute with Motif FoodWorks.
Motif said it is now challenging four other Impossible Foods patents in the U.S., arguing that they are all similar to the revoked European one. The patents involve meat alternative products containing heme protein, sugars and sulfur compounds, which Motif argues cannot be patented by a single firm because they have been used by companies to develop taste and smell for meat and meat alternatives for decades.
This is the latest development in an ugly battle over patents in the plant-based segment. It started in March when Impossible Foods sued Motif FoodWorks in U.S. federal court. Impossible claimed Motif infringed on at least one of Impossible’s patents through Motif’s demonstration of its plant-based Hemami ingredient.
Motif retaliated in April by challenging the validity of the Impossible Foods patent at the center of the case by petitioning the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board. Motif wanted it revoked, arguing that before Impossible’s patent, the office had issued others regarding meat substitutes, composition of meat analogs and heme proteins.
In October, the board affirmed Impossible’s U.S. patent, writing that Motif “has not shown a reasonable likelihood that it will prevail in showing that at least one of the challenged claims is unpatentable.” It declined to review the case.
Since the initial lawsuit was filed, Impossible has revised it to include seven patents it claims Motif has violated. In its email, Impossible said they always expected Motif to challenge the other patents involved in the lawsuit, and the company expects those challenges will not be successful.
The federal court case is ongoing, with a trial scheduled in January 2025.