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Two fungi-based alternative meat manufacturers are accusing each other of legal transgressions. Colorado-based Meati Foods, founded in 2015, claims that a former employee went to work for California’s The Better Meat Co, founded in 2018, taking a proprietary mycelium harvesting technique with them. In turn, Better is accusing Meati of undermining its IP in order to ruin its fundraising efforts.
Food Navigator broke the story surrounding the increasingly hostile battle last week. Better initially set up to focus on creating plant-based meat flavour enhancers. It transpired that the company had been stealthily working on fungi-based protein developments as well. It debuted its ‘Rhiza’ meat substitute in 2021, leading Meati to conclude that a former acquaintance, now working for Better, has shared intellectual property to make a competitive product.
Taking the dispute to court
Meati was alerted to a potential IP infringement after a U.S. patent was granted to Better for fermentation methodologies, using mycelium to make meat alternatives. Former associate Augustus H. Pattillo was named as the ‘inventor’ of the fermentation technique, leading to Meati’s lawyers initiating an accusation of IP theft. Evidence has been submitted that Pattillo was aware of and actively engaged in the development of mycelium harvesting, with a view to future food developments. Meati co-founders Drs. Huggins and Whitely claim that the patent features confidential research information that could have only been gleaned while working for them.
In response to the accusations levelled at it, Better has claimed that no evidence has been supplied and that Meati is simply engaged in the process of trying to “bully” a less-funded rival to maintain a monopoly of the fungi-based meat sector. The company goes on to claim that Meati would have filed its own patent if it had invented or been working on mycelium as a meat replacement.
It should be noted that neither company has documented which fungi it works with and neither has applied to the FDA for GRAS approval. There is little information about how either meat alternatives are made.
In December last year Better filed a lawsuit to gain control of the IP via a declaration of inventorship. Meati returned fire two weeks later with a suit of its own, claiming ‘misappropriation and unfair competition’, with a demand for Pattillo’s patent to be assigned to it. “On information and belief, no one had ever discovered how to make textured mycelial masses resembling animal meat before Drs. Huggins and Whitely,” Meati’s legal team stated. “Mr. Pattillo, Mr. Shapiro and The Better Meat Co. would not have been able to do this either had they not stolen Drs. Huggins and Whitely’s innovative trade secret, proprietary and confidential information.”
Addressing the cases
Better released a statement to FoodNavigator-USA regarding the case, saying it “filed suit because we won’t stand by idly while a company with no patents spreads fiction in an effort to take our patents and slow our growth into the marketplace.”
Meati hit back by stating, “While we value fair competition, theft is unacceptable and it is crucial Meati do what is required to protect its hard work, employees, investors and the integrity of the entire alternative protein industry.”
Both cases continue.
As an aside, the legal dispute will be an unwelcome addition for Better co-founder Paul Shapiro, as it will not be his first. A former VP at The Humane Society and prominent animal rights advocate, he was previously the subject of sexual harassment allegations, as reported by Politico.
Editors note: This article has been amended to reflect that Augustus H. Pattillo was not an employee of Meati Foods.
Lead photo composite compiled using photos from Meati Foods and The Better Meat Co (top to bottom).