Impossible Foods is suing plant-based food startup Motif FoodWorks for patent infringement, claiming that Motif copied its heme technology for imitating the taste of real meat. According to the lawsuit seen by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Motif's version of heme, also known as Hemami, uses bovine myoglobin as its source and uses a similar process to create the ingredient which is then used in beef substitutes.
Impossible Foods was founded in 2011 and assembled a team of scientists to carry out a research investigation into determining which biological molecules make meat look, cook, and taste the way it does. Impossible Foods then set out to make plant-based foods that incorporate the heme molecule to replicate the taste, aroma, and overall sensory experience of meat. The heme in Impossible products is part of a hemoprotein molecule called soy leghemoglobin and is produced from a genetically modified Pichia yeast.
The lawsuit alleged that Motif has had opportunities to obtain non-public information regarding Impossible Foods' proprietary yeast and methods of making its proprietary heme-containing protein. As such, the finished meat replica products that include Hemami and which Motif has sold, offered for sale, and purposes directly or indirectly infringe the United States Patent No. 10,863,761 (“the ’761 Patent”).
The '761 Patent claims that Impossible Foods' products comprise a beef replica product, which includes a muscle replica comprising 0.1% to 5% of a heme-containing protein, at least one sugar compound and at least one sulfur compound. The products are also said to have a fat tissue replica comprising at least one plant oil and a denatured plant protein, wherein said muscle replica and fat tissue replica are assembled in a manner that approximates the physical organisation of meat.
According to the lawsuit, Motif is and also has allegedly been aware that the inclusion of Hemami in meat replica products is a violation of Impossible Foods’ patent rights and has touted Hemami as a substitute for Impossible Foods’ patented technology in its marketing communications.
According to its website, Motif markets meat alternatives and tout these products to offer "the real umami flavours, appearance, and aromas of meat". Its website also notes that Hemami "tastes and smells like meat because it uses the same naturally occurring heme protein" and bestows "[m]outh the senses — while cooked and right watering aromas that engage before you take your first bite".
Motif was spun out of Ginkgo Bioworks, a genetic engineering company, in early 2019. During its launch in 2019, Ginkgo co-founder and CEO Jason Kelly said Motif's creation was inspired by the success story of Impossible, CNBC reported. Meanwhile, the Impossible Burger was released in 2016 and later reformulated in 2019. On 15 December 2020, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued the '761 Patent to Impossible Foods.
According to CNBC, Impossible has a valuation of US$9.5 billion. Meanwhile, Motif was valued at US$1.23 billion last year and has raised US$34.5 million from investors including Bill Gates. The lawsuit is currently requesting for Motif to account for and pay to Impossible Foods all damages and costs incurred by Impossible Foods, caused by the former's infringing activities. MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to Impossible Foods and Motif for comment.
Impossible's spokesperson told CNBC that while it supports the efforts of other companies to create "compelling plant-based products", it does not tolerate "attempts to undermine [its] brand or products throuhg the deliberate and unauthorised infringement" of its IP. Meanwhile, Motif's spokesperson said the company will challenge the allegations "vigorously".
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