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Dr Mike Leonard, CEO, Motif FoodWorks
"Impossible is wasting resources, creativity, and opportunities through a failing litigation strategy.” Dr. Mike Leonard, CEO, Motif FoodWorks. Image: Motif FoodWorks

US patent office to review Impossible Foods IP following challenge by Motif FoodWorks as legal dispute intensifies

June 20, 2023

The US Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) has agreed to review a patent granted to Impossible Foods following a petition by Motif FoodWorks, which is being sued by Impossible for patent infringement.

The US patent is one of several granted to Impossible that Motif has challenged after being hit with a high-profile lawsuit* early last year accusing it of stealing Impossible’s IP by using heme proteins in plant-based meat substitutes.

In a June 16 PTAB ruling, Administrative Patent Judge Donna M. Praiss said Motif had “demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of prevailing with respect to at least one claim of the 9,943,096 B2 patent** and we institute inter partes review (IPR) of all claims and all grounds asserted in the petition.”

Motif, which has mounted a PR campaign​​ presenting Impossible Foods as a bully “stifling innovation​” in the plant-based industry, said: “Statistics show the PTAB invalidates one or more claims in 80% of the patents that reach a final decision in IPR, so we look forward to seeing this process play out.”

CEO Michael Leonard added: “Impossible is wasting resources, creativity, and opportunities through a failing litigation strategy. The company seems more concerned with securing monopoly power over a protein than with growing this sector.”

Impossible Foods: PTAB has already rejected multiple IPR petitions from Motif

While the news is a setback for Impossible Foods, which also saw a European patent revoked by the European Patent Office late last year, Motif has also experienced several setbacks in their increasingly ugly legal battle.

An Impossible Foods spokesperson told AFN: “We’re pleased with the patent office’s outright rejection of four out of Motif’s five IPR petitions for review of our patents and we’re confident that we will prevail on the fifth when it is fully considered. This is a major testament to the strength of our patent portfolio and Motif’s repeated failure to avoid accountability for its infringement.”

Motif also recently failed to persuade a judge that attorneys at Impossible Foods had violated rules of professional conduct by hiring private investigators to pose as potential customers in order to obtain information and samples from Motif as the companies clashed over IP.

Motif: ‘If Impossible wins​ ​[its lawsuit], it means no one else can experiment with heme in the plant-based industry’

The legal dispute between the two warring foodtech companies centers on the use of heme proteins in plant-based meat alternatives. This is an area in which Impossible and Motif—who have each laid off staff in recent months as market conditions have deteriorated—both play.

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; while Motif FoodWorks’ HEMAMI ​​​ heme protein is identical to bovine myoglobin, which is found in the muscle tissue of cows.

Both are produced via precision fermentation using a genetically engineered strain of​​​ yeast to express heme-containing proteins that impart ‘meaty’ flavors and deep red colors to meat alternatives, but they are not exactly the same, according to Motif.

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.”​

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

**The US patent under review – titled “Methods and Compositions for Affecting the Flavor and Aroma Profile of Consumables” – seeks to “better replicate the aromas and flavors of meat, particularly during and/or after cooking.”

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