Impossible Foods patent targeted in litigation with Motif FoodWorks

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

China news service | Getty Images

Plant-based meat maker Impossible Foods is at risk of losing a key patent in an ongoing legal battle with competitor Motif FoodWorks.

Motif applied to the US Patent and Trademark Office to revoke a patent held by Impossible that protects the company’s heme technology. Impossible sued Motif in March, alleging that the start-up’s heme-based beef alternative too closely mimics its own version.

Impossible’s beef and pork substitutes use soy leghemoglobin made from genetically engineered yeast to mimic the taste and flavor of real meat.

Both companies are privately held, although Impossible is much larger at a valuation of $9.5 billion. Along with publicly traded Beyond Meat, Impossible has helped rejuvenate the veggie burger market. The loss of the heme patent could mean even tougher competition in the meat alternative market.

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

“We are confident that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board will agree with our view that the patent should never have been granted and it will be revoked,” a Motif spokesman said in a statement to CNBC. “Our industry should work together to grow the plant-based category for the greater good – for the good of people and the planet. competition is healthy. And it should take place in the market, not in court.”

A spokesman for Impossible told CNBC in a statement that the company believes in the strength of its patent and expects to prevail in court and in the patent office.

“Motif’s stunt is a baseless and unmeritorious attempt to distract from the fact that they have infringed our patent and are unlawfully using our technology to build their business,” the spokesman said.

According to Pitchbook, Motif has raised $343.5 million from investors like Bill Gates and was valued at $1.23 billion last year. It was spun off from biotech startup Ginkgo Bioworks.

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

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

In its original complaint, Impossible said its patent covered the invention of a beef substitute that used a replica muscle containing a heme-containing protein, at least one sugar compound, and a sulfur compound. It also guards against the invention of a meat alternative that mimics meat through a fat tissue replica that uses at least one vegetable oil and one denatured vegetable protein. Impossible Foods patent targeted in litigation with Motif FoodWorks

Gary B. Graves

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