Impossible Keeps Its Heme Patent But Motif Challenges Its ‘Silicon Valley Bullying’

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Impossible Foods will retain the patent rights on its novel heme ingredient used for its vegan beef and pork, says the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. But it’s not the end to its battle with Motif FoodWorks.

Earlier this year, Impossible Foods sued the startup Motif FoodWorks over patent infringement. The Bay Area vegan meat producer behind Burger King’s Impossible Whopper said Motif’s heme technology was too similar to its own. The lawsuit came after Motif filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), challenging Impossible’s right to the patent.

Heme battle heats up

Motif argued that Impossible should never have been given a patent for its tech. Impossible uses an ingredient called soy leghemoglobin, or “heme,” which is produced from genetically modified yeast and is identical to the nodules on the roots of soy plants. The ingredient makes Impossible’s beef and pork products look, cook, and taste like conventional meat.

Impossible Foods uses coconut oil to create a fatty taste and texture in its burgers
Impossible Foods uses heme to give its beef a meaty taste and texture | Courtesy

Last December, Motif announced its heme tech, which it calls “Hemami”, would become available to large-scale producers. The company launched in 2019 as a spinoff of Ginko Bioworks. At the time, Ginkgo co-founder and CEO Jason Kelly cited Impossible’s success as inspiration for creating Motif.

But Impossible said Motif was more than inspired by the company, now valued at $7 billion. It says Motif’s tech is a knock-off, which uses bovine myoglobin instead of soy leghemoglobin as its heme source, in a process similar to Impossible’s. Both companies use the same strain of genetically engineered year to produce the heme proteins.

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) sided with Impossible Foods in a 26-page ruling, declining to review the case. It claims Motif “has not shown a reasonable likelihood that it will prevail in showing that at least one of the challenged claims is unpatentable.”

Federal court to decide

The board’s ruling doesn’t shut the door on the case, though. The legal suit in federal court is still ongoing. Cases can be won in court by challengers to patent technology even if that party has failed to convince patent offices.

A Motif spokesperson denied any wrongdoing and accused Impossible of using “legally dubious” and “factually baseless” claims to “stifle innovation and competition.”

Motif FoodWorks' Hemami beef burgers
Motif FoodWorks’ Hemami beef burgers | Courtesy

“This complaint is not supported by facts or the law and is nothing more than a baseless attempt by Impossible Foods to stifle competition, limit consumer choice, and impede Motif, a new and innovative company with significant business momentum,” the spokesperson said in a statement earlier this year.

“We are confident in our legal position and our determination to continue challenging Impossible’s aggressive actions through every avenue available,” Motif told FoodNavigator-USA. The company accused Impossible of “Silicon Valley bullying.”

Impossible says that’s not the case. “We’re a product company, and this decision by the Patent Office is a testament to our novel technology—which includes our first-of-its-kind plant-based meat,” a spokesperson said. “It also affirms the strength of our robust patent portfolio. We look forward to presenting our case and have confidence that the District Court will take the appropriate steps to remedy Motif’s infringement.”

Lead image courtesy Impossible Foods.


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