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Impossible Foods patent targeted in legal battle with Motif FoodWorks

Plant-based burgers developed by Impossible Foods Inc. seen at the 2nd China International Import Expo (CIIE) at the National Exhibition and Convention Center on November 6, 2019 in Shanghai, China.

China News Service | Getty Images

The plant-based meat producer Impossible Foods may risk losing a key patent as part of an ongoing legal dispute with competitor Motif FoodWorks.

Motif asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revoke a patent that Impossible holds to protect the company’s home technology. Impossible sued Motif in March, claiming that the start-up’s heme-based beef alternative too closely mimics its own version.

Impossibles beef and pork substitutes use soybean hemoglobin, which is made from genetically modified yeast, to mimic the taste and aroma of real meat.

Both companies are privately owned, though Impossible is much larger, with a valuation of $ 9.5 billion. Together with the listed Beyond Meat, Impossible has helped rejuvenate the market for vegetarian burgers. Losing its patent on heme could mean even tougher competition in the alternative meat market.

Motif filed a petition with the USPTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board on Wednesday, asking a panel of judges to review Impossibles’ patent and consider whether it should be revoked.

“We are confident that the Patent and Appeals Board will agree with our view that the patent should never have been issued and revoke it,” a Motif spokesman said in a statement to CNBC. “Our industry should work together to cultivate the plant-based category for the greater good – for the benefit of humans and the planet. Competition is healthy. And it should play out in the market, not the courts.”

An Impossible spokesman told CNBC in a statement that the company is convinced of the strength of its patent and that it expects to win in court and before the patent office.

“Motifs stunt is a baseless and pointless attempt to distract from the fact that they have infringed our patent and are illegally using our technology to build their business,” the spokesman said.

Motif has raised $ 343.5 million from investors including Bill Gates and was valued at $ 1.23 billion last year, according to Pitchbook. It was spun out of biotechnology start-up Ginkgo Bioworks.

When Motif was launched in 2019, Ginkgo co-founder and CEO Jason Kelly told CNBC that Impossible’s success inspired the formation of Motif, which develops key ingredients for plant-based proteins and leaves the rest to food companies.

Impossible claims that Motif’s Hemami product infringes its patent on a beef replica that uses heme, a molecule found in traditional beef burgers that both Impossible and Motif use as an ingredient. Motifs version uses bovine myoglobin as a source of inhibition.

In its original complaint, Impossible stated that its patent covers the invention of a beef substitute that uses a muscle replica, including an inhibitory protein, at least one sugar compound and one sulfur compound. It also protects against the invention of a meat alternative that mimics meat through an adipose tissue replica using at least one vegetable oil and a denatured plant protein.

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