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U.S. Patent Office to review Impossible Foods patent following Motif petition

U.S. Patent Office to review Impossible Foods patent following Motif petition

June 21, 2023

In a highly-anticipated ruling by its Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), the US Patent and Trademark Office announced last Friday (16 June) that it would institute inter partes review (IPR) of Patent 9,943,096 B2 claimed by Impossible Foods. The ruling commences an administrative trial, expected to take about a year, on the validity of one of Impossible Foods' most important patents.

Motif FoodWorks petitioned for review of the patent after Impossible sued Motif in federal court last year, alleging patent infringement in using heme to create plant-based meat substitutes.

In the PTAB's ruling, Administrative Patent Judge Donna M. Praiss wrote that Motif "has demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of prevailing with respect to at least one claim of the '096 patent, and we institute inter partes review of all claims and all grounds asserted in the petition."

The Impossible patent now under review – titled 'Methods and Compositions for Affecting the Flavor and Aroma Profile of Consumables' – seeks to "better replicate the aromas and flavors of meat, particularly during and/or after cooking", according to filings at the Patent and Trademark Office.

"We are pleased with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board's decision to institute inter partes review (IPR) for Patent 9,943,096 B2, finding that Motif has shown a reasonable likelihood we will prevail," commented Michael Leonard, CEO of Motif FoodWorks. "Statistics show the PTAB invalidates one or more claims in 80% of the patents that reach a final decision in IPR, so we look forward to seeing this process play out."

"This is not just a victory for Motif – it's a victory for consumers," added Leonard. "For us, this whole process is about protecting innovation and consumer choice in plant-based foods."

The ruling marks Impossible's second significant setback in its effort to secure a monopoly on using heme – a naturally occurring protein – to flavor plant-based meat substitutes. Late last year, the European Patent Office revoked an EU patent held by Impossible. Meanwhile, its lawsuit against Motif is still pending in federal district court in Delaware.

Motif and Impossible both use heme proteins in plant-based meat alternatives. Impossible's heme protein is identical to soy leghemoglobin, a protein found in nodules attached to the roots of nitrogen-fixing plants like soy. Motif's heme protein, HEMAMI, is identical to bovine myoglobin, which is found in the muscle tissue of cows.

Motif argues that these ingredients, which have been used to develop the taste and smell of meat and meat alternatives in food products for decades, are not patentable by Impossible. Indeed, Motif argues that the ingredients that Impossible claims to have discovered have existed and been sold in everyday food products for decades and that the claims are a legally and factually baseless attempt to stifle innovation and limit consumer choice.  

"Impossible is wasting resources, creativity, and opportunities through a failing litigation strategy," Leonard said. "The company seems more concerned with securing monopoly power over a protein than with growing this sector."

"Since our founding in 2018, Motif has reinvented plant-based meat, making it better tasting, more nutritious and sustainable," added Leonard. "Impossible is determined to stop that innovation – hurting consumers, our industry and, ultimately, our planet. We will continue to fight Impossible's aggressive actions to limit competition and are gratified that the PTAB found merit in our position."

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