Judge Rules in Favour of The Better Meat Co in IP Dispute Against Meati


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The IP case between mycelium meat makers Meati and The Better Meat Co has drawn to a close, after a judge ruled largely in favour of the latter.

California’s The Better Meat Co and Colorado-based Meati have ended their two-and-a-half-year-long intellectual property dispute over their mycelium protein products, paving the way for the former’s fundraising efforts.

As reported by AgFunder, a judge in the Eastern District of California court ruled largely in favour of The Better Meat Co, accusing Meati of deploying “inexplicable” tactics and engaging in “sandbagging”. The court also rejected Meati’s claim over The Better Meat Co’s patent.

The legal battle began in December 2021 after The Better Meat Co sued Meati for undermining its IP and attempting to “bully” a less-funded rival. Meati, in response, accused the former of stealing its IP. Both companies produce meat analogues derived from the same fungi strain and using submerged fermentation.

The meat of the matter

better meat co lawsuit
Courtesy: The Better Meat Co

Meati was founded in 2015 by Tyler Huggins and Justin Whiteley, and has raised $365M in venture capital to date, including a $100M Series C1 round just last month. The company’s chicken cutlets and steaks are now available in more than 6,000 retail locations, and it’s aiming to take the store count to 10,000 by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, The Better Meat Co, was founded by Paul Shapiro, Joanna Bromley and Adam Yee three years later. It has brought in only $27M in funding, thanks in part to the long-running court case. It began as a company producing plant-based meat enhancers, but later revealed it had been developing meat analogues using filamentous fungi, dubbed Rhiza mycoprotein. Its legacy plant protein is part of Perdue Farms’ Chicken Plus blended meat line.

In July 2021, The Better Meat Co was granted a US patent for this tech, listing Augustus H Pattillo as its inventor. According to CEO Paul Shapiro, Pattillo had previously spent a year working on a Department of Energy fellowship at Chicago’s Argonne National Laboratory, at the same time Meati (then called Emergy and working on renewable batteries) was also doing work at the federal agency.

In 2019, Pattillo joined The Better Meat Co (BMC), which was accused of IP theft by Meati after receiving the patent. “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 had stated. Huggins and Whiteley “did not believe it was possible for BMC to have brought a product to market so quickly on its own unless Pattillo had taken something” from Meati, and argued that their names should have been on the patent.

The Better Meat Co argued that Meati had “provided no evidence that it had identified the novel claim terms of the BMC patent, had shared any of the concepts at issue with Mr Pattillo, or was even actively researching meat replacement uses of mycelium prior to 2019″.

The Californian startup also claimed that Meati had failed to provide hard, admissible evidence – despite repeated requests – to “corroborate Huggins’ and Whiteley’s testimony that they, and not Pattillo, first conceived of the claims listed in Better Meat’s patents”.

Judge reprimands Meati for ‘sandbagging’ and ‘shenanigans’

meati lawsuit
Courtesy: Meati

In the court order in California, judge Kimberly J Mueller sided with The Better Meat Co for the most part, admitting some trade secret claims made by Meati to proceed, but rejecting its core patent claims.

She said Meati “has not supported its opposition with citations of particular parts of materials in the record to corroborate Huggins’s and Whiteley’s testimony that they are among the inventors – or the sole inventors – who should be listed on the four Better Meat patents”.

Mueller also outlined how Meati served The Better Meat Co with nearly 3,0000 pages of documents the night before a hearing on May 17, which the Colorado-based company said supported its inventorship claims. But, the judge said, Meati’s counsel offered “no credible explanation” of why it didn’t provide such materials sooner, considering the case has been going on since December 2021.

“In a case like this one – a case pending for more than two years in which the claimant can reasonably be expected to possess the evidence it would need to prove its claims – that claimant cannot avoid summary judgment through such sandbagging and shenanigans,” she said.

Instead of showing any “genuine dispute of material fact”, she stated that Meati’s action led the court to doubt it was pursuing its claims for “a proper purpose in the first place”.

Meati targets profitability, The Better Meat Co aims to scale up

the better meat co
Courtesy: The Better Meat Co

The ruling is a positive one for The Better Meat Co, which can now hope to amp up its fundraising efforts without the IP albatross on its neck.

The judge did find that Meati had “identified genuine disputes of material fact within the record” related to trade secret claims, but both companies have now agreed to bring the dispute to an end. “The case has been concluded satisfactorily and we don’t have any further comment at this time,” a Meati spokesperson said.

Echoing this, a representative for The Better Meat Co added: “This case is now concluded, and we look forward to continuing to build a better food system.”

The Better Meat Co CEO Shapiro, a long-standing animal rights advocate, was previously the subject of sexual harassment allegations during his time as VP at the Humane Society of the United States.

After leaving the charity for unrelated reasons in 2018, he told Politico: “I’ve taken responsibility for inappropriate behaviour years earlier in my career, and apologised to those who may have been offended. I cannot, however, respond to allegations that I’m unaware of, were never presented to my former employer or me during the inquiry 16 months ago, are alleged to have occurred many years ago and, frankly, just never happened.”

Both Meati and The Better Meat Co will hope to move forward with their business plans following the end of the case. Meati has enacted three rounds of layoffs in the last 12 months, the latest one cutting 13% of its workforce. It has also seen shifts in the C-suite, with Phil Graves taking over as CEO from Huggins, who has moved into an advisory role, just as COO and president Scott Tassani left the company.

The Colorado-based startup is now aiming for profitability, and has previously set out its plan to reach $1B in sales by 2025 (although the restructuring has likely pushed back this target).

The Better Meat Co just announced it had slashed the cost of its mycoprotein. When produced at scale, it will now cost the same as commodity beef, even if no further R&D advancements are made. It is now looking to scale up to supply major CPG brands in the US and Asia, who have signed letters of intent and offtake agreements for its mycoprotein.

Author

  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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