Join the Newsletter

Stay up-to date with food+ag+climate tech and investment trends, and industry-leading news and analysis, globally.

Subscribe to receive the AFN & AgFunder
newsletter each week.

Ginkgo Bioworks
Image credit: Ginkgo Bioworks

Brief: Impossible Foods goes after Ginkgo Bioworks in amended lawsuit over heme proteins in alt meat

July 5, 2023

  • Impossible Foods has added Ginkgo Bioworks as a defendant in its patent infringement lawsuit against foodtech rival Motif Foodworks over the use of heme proteins in meat alternatives.
  • A synthetic biology specialist that licensed technology to Motif after spinning it off in 2019, Ginkgo Bioworks remains a key shareholder in Motif.
  • Impossible and Motif both produce heme proteins via precision fermentation using a genetically engineered strain of Pichia pastoris​​​ yeast, but they are not exactly the same, according to Motif.
  • Impossible Foods’ heme protein is identical to soy leghemoglobin, a protein found in nodules attached to the roots of nitrogen-fixing plants such as soy; Motif FoodWorks’ HEMAMI ​​​ heme protein is identical to bovine myoglobin, which is found in the muscle tissue of cows.

Why it matters

The legal dispute between Impossible and Motif — which began in March 2022 — centers on the use of heme proteins to impart a deep red color and meaty flavors to plant-based burgers and other products. The case is being watched closely in the alt meat industry by those seeking to determine the extent to which Impossible’s patents can lock out others from using heme proteins in meat alternatives.

Impossible says it is simply defending its intellectual property, while Motif argues that many of the inventions claimed in Impossible Foods’ patents are obvious and already disclosed in the prior art.

According to Motif FoodWorks: “If Impossible wins​ ​[its lawsuit in Delaware], it means no one else can experiment with heme in the plant-based industry.”​​

According to Impossible Foods: “​We have always welcomed and embraced competition, but… we do not tolerate theft of our technology.”​

Ginkgo Bioworks: ‘We’re confident in our belief that the strains Motif is using are not infringing’  

In a new filing in the ongoing litigation (its third amended complaint), Impossible Foods claims that, “Ginkgo Bioworks is and has been aware that the making of yeast cells used to produce heme-containing proteins is a violation of Impossible Foods’ patent rights and has touted such yeasts as a substitute for Impossible Foods’ patented technology in its marketing communications.”

According to Impossible, Ginkgo “licensed intellectual property to Motif for use in strain development to produce ingredients that the parties will subsequently agree to develop under technical development plans. The license rights provide Motif with the ability to commercialize the specified ingredients from the corresponding strain.”

A spokesperson from Ginkgo told AgFunder News (AFN): “We understand that incumbents threatened by a new entrant may lash out with IP lawsuits. We’re confident in our belief that the strains Motif is using are not infringing, and we will defend ourselves against any allegations to the contrary.

“We respect and admire Impossible’s creativity and how they’ve moved the needle to reduce the climate impact of animal farming. We don’t have any beef with that! Synthetic biology will play a huge role in that fight and we all need to work hard to speed up that innovation.”

*The case is Impossible Foods v Motif FoodWorks. Case #1:22-cv-00311 filed March 9, 2022 in Delaware

Join the Newsletter

Get the latest news & research from AFN and AgFunder in your inbox.

Join the Newsletter
Get the latest news and research from AFN & AgFunder in your inbox.

Follow us:

AgFunder Research
Join Newsletter