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Meat Substitutes: Protecting Innovations and Strategies for Building a Patent Portfolio

In the first part [P1] of this two-part article, we compiled the global innovation landscape and market trends in the meat substitute industry. In the second part of this article, we delve into specific aspects of meat substitutes that qualify for patent protection and explore strategies for building a patent portfolio for companies which are active or aspiring to venture into this space.

Patentable Aspects of Meat Substitutes

Patents are filed to protect various aspects of meat substitute innovations. The following is a list of a few patentable aspects of meat substitutes with examples for a fair understanding of the subject:

  1. Composition of a Meat-Analogue: Meat substitutes are made of a unique combination of ingredients to replicate the conventional meat taste, texture, and nutritional value. Patents may be sought to protect such unique compositions which enhance the product, process, or a specific characteristic of the meat substitutes. For example, an Indian patent application (202241003683) claims a composition for plant-based meat comprising pea protein, soy protein, fava bean, jackfruit flour, microalgae, water lentils, grains, seeds, yellow pea, and micronutrients.

  2. Method/Process for Production: The production process of meat analogues can include novel steps or novel equipment which significantly impacts the meat analogue's characteristics, including flavour, colour, and texture. For example, a US patent (4185123) claims a method for producing dense, and uniformly layered meat analogues. Another patent application seeks protection for “a supervisory machine intelligence controls for the production of meat substitutes” in India.

  3. Functional Additives: Novel functional additives that enhance sensory attributes and nutritional value can be protected under patent law. Hofmann Thomas Frank's US Patent application (2012023140) claims a monopoly over a flavour-enhancing compound.

  4. Cultured meat: All improvements to cultured meat, its composition, and the process of producing the cultured meat qualify for patent protection. For example, an Indian patent application (202121014874) claims an edible scaffolding for cultivated meat. In another example, an Indian patent application (202147026461) is filed for “high quality cultured meat, compositions and methods for producing same”.

  5. Specific Characteristics: Improvement to specific attributes like juiciness, tenderness, or mouthfeel may qualify for patent protection. For example, the US Patent application (US20220211089) sought protection for a method to improve mouthfeel and mask undesired notes in consumable compositions.

  6. Packaging and Preservation Methods: Patents can extend to innovative packaging and preservation techniques. For example, an International Patent Application (WO202258343) was filed for “Preservative and/or antimicrobial composition for food products”.


Possible Objections from Indian Patent Office for Meat Substitues

General Objections: In general, for any invention to be granted patent protection in India the following requirements must be met:

  • It must be Novel;

  • It must include an Inventive step (i.e., it should not be obvious);

  • It must not fall under non-patentable subjects in India. For a complete list of inventions that are not patentable in India, please refer to this link.

  • It must be capable of Industrial Applicability (i.e., capable of being made and used in industry); and

  • Enablement of the invention in the patent application, i.e., to clearly describe the working of the invention enabling a skilled person to carry out the invention.

Specific Objections: Apart from the Novelty and Inventive step objections, which are relatively more technical in nature, for inventions pertaining to meat substitutes, it is observed that objections related to non-patentable subject matter under sections 3(d) and 3(e) of the Indian Patent Act are common.


  • Section 3(d) states that “[t]he mere discovery of a new form of a known substance which does not result in the enhancement of the known efficacy of that substance or the mere discovery of any new property or new use for a known substance or of the mere use of a known process, machine or apparatus unless such known process results in a new product or employs at least one new reactant.” is not patentable.

  • Section 3(e) states that “a substance obtained by a mere admixture resulting only in the aggregation of the properties of the components thereof or a process for producing such substance” is not patentable.

  • Inventions involving biological materials may face objections for not disclosing the source and geographical origin of the biological material. The National Biodiversity Authority’s (NBA) permission is required for biological materials obtained from India.

Strategy for Building a Patent Portfolio

Creating a strong patent portfolio requires strategic planning, budgeting, and continuous monitoring. It is a long-term and continuous process for companies of any scale to stay relevant and ahead of the competition. Over time, a patent portfolio should be tuned to generate revenue or create an entry barrier but not remain an overhead cost to a company.

With this aim, companies operating at all stages in the value chain of the meat substitutes industry should focus on identifying improvements in their products and processes and assess their patentability. A patent prior art search is a good start for such an assessment. Further, various factors like the market opportunity, budget, technology relevance, the significance of the improvement and possible alternatives, play a major role in curating inventions that are worthy of patent protection.

The following are a few simple pointers that would lay a good foundation for building an effective patent portfolio.


· Build IP awareness within the company and encourage teams to innovate.

· Engage expert patent consultants, who understand the meat substitutes space, early on for strategic planning, evaluating inventions, handling patent activities, budgeting, and monitoring the meat substitutes space.

· Getting a patent is important, but having a strong enforceable patent that keeps competitors out is the real goal.

· Identify key markets and file patents early to establish priority.

· A well-drafted patent application may avoid unwarranted objections raised by Patent Offices, secure broader protection, and reduce future costs.


Conclusion


The meat substitute industry is experiencing a significant transformation, with patents playing a pivotal role in accelerating innovation. With the rising demand for meat alternatives, companies that strategically plan, seek expert consultation and file patents promptly can ensure their market position and foster sustainable growth. By comprehending patent-worthy aspects of meat substitutes and adeptly addressing potential objections, businesses can forge a strong patent portfolio that not only shields against competitors but also fosters a culture of innovation.

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