UK: Protein Production, Recovery And Processing In Food Manufacture – Leveraging Patent Rights And Information From Patents

Last Updated: 24 April 2017
Article by Gill Jennings & Every

Abstract

The imperative to produce protein-containing nutritional foods and animal fodder to ensure food security in a sustainable manner is driving innovation, and investment in R&D. In the box of tools that companies can use to enable a return on their investment, are intellectual property rights (IPRs), including patents, trade marks, plant breeders' rights, copyright and know-how/trade secrets. These tools allow companies to control exploitation of the fruits of its research and achieve appropriate levels of profitability, and inhibit unfair competition, for instance direct copying of business models, use of inventions, appropriation of branding, etc. Patents are an excellent basis for open innovation, as the invention is published as part of the process. The patent rights provide a framework for collaboration agreements with co-developers and future manufacturers. Published patent specifications can provide an indication of the research and development landscape and the plans of individual companies.

There is a multifold challenge facing food producers. The global population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Food production must increase to satisfy the consequent demand. Meanwhile resources, e.g. water, phosphorus, are becoming scarcer, climate change is impacting yields, and developments must mitigate climate change, paying attention to creation of greenhouse gases, and avoiding problems of land conversion. The growing problem of antibiotic-resistant pathogens is impacting animal husbandry and hygiene. These challenges are recognised at the country level, and solutions must be global in reach. For instance, one of the Horizon 2020 work programmes is devoted to food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and inland water research and the bioeconomy, and there are EU partnerships with Africa and China.

At a micro rather than macro level, there is local tightening of regulations on food ingredients, functional foods, chemical residues, pathogen contamination, and pesticide usage. Additionally, there is a heightened recognition of the importance of health and well-being and the need to minimise waste at all stages of the supply chain. All these factors indicate that innovation is necessary in the food and drink field. Financial capital investment can be protected using the tools of intellectual property, to enable a return to be generated, which can be reinvested in R&D. Which of the various IPR tools is suited is very much dependent on the business plan of the participants in any development.

Registered rights including patents and trade marks, by their nature are published and readily searchable. The classification of technical information available in patent specifications is highly evolved, so that very powerful searches can be undertaken. Limiting searches by subject-matter, and combining terms with data concerning inventorship and ownership can reveal interesting clues as to specific company investment and commercial plans that may otherwise not be publicised. Global or local trends can be analysed.

One particular area of development is alternative protein sources. Searching for published patent specifications that fall within the category of protein compositions for foodstuffs reveals some interesting statistics. From a patent search carried out for patent families published within the period of 2004-2014, it was deduced that more than 50% of these patent families related to recovery of protein from three sources:

  • Milk & whey
  • Soy
  • Rice

The remaining patent families related to a huge diversity in the sources. A few examples are plants such as: mung bean, sweet potatoes, discarded tobacco leaves, peanut protein powder, sesame protein, sunflower seed, pea protein, bean starch production wastewater, peach kernel, sweet almond protein, hemp, kaniwa (a S. American plant), Lotus seed, ginko and avocado, microorganisms such as algae fluorescence protein, waste mushroom leftovers, marine/aquatic sources such as fish waste, scallop shells, krill, shrimp heads and shells, anchovy, squid, crustacean exoskeletons, snail and jellyfish, insects (see below for some examples), as well as unusual animals, reptiles and birds such as eggshell membrane, donkey bone, giant salamander and chicken feet.

It can be noted that many sources are likely side-streams/by-products of existing processes, and this will be no doubt be an area that will provide opportunities in the future.

Most of the publications identified in the above search that relate to the less traditional sources derive from Asia, it being notable that Chinese inventions feature highly. An analysis of all the data concerning insect sources revealed that over 90% of these originate from Chinese sources. Insect sources included: fly maggots, cockroaches, locusts, grasshoppers, flies, butterflies and moths, beetles, cicada, silkworm pupa and bee larvae. It is possible that the main products covered in these cases are destined as animal fodder, rather than human food. Nevertheless, it may not have escaped readers' attention that consuming insect-based foodstuffs has been high on the broadcast media's priority list in recent months, not only for celebrities in Australian jungles, and it may well be that farming of insects proves to be an efficient and sustainable industry. We Westerners may overcome the yuck factor and accept insect-based protein-rich foods in the not-too-distant future.

Significant investment in patent translation tools now allows published patent documents to be read in English for patents published by most of the main patent offices, thus, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. This enables those with a curious mind to research food production, especially production of protein for food, from sources that have not been conventional in the West up to now. Patent specifications are required to enable a reader, with the level of common general knowledge in the relevant technical field, to put the claimed invention into effect. Once the term of the patent has expired, or lapsed, the user of the information need not license in the right, nor compensate the proprietor.

The food and drink industry has historically utilised trade mark protection and know-how more widely than patents. Patents had been viewed as inappropriate, as expensive and too slow to justify in the field where product life is short and innovation more aesthetic than technical. However, it can be seen that some stakeholders are using the patent system extensively, perhaps to support collaborative business models, reflecting more cross-border trade, and to support funding needs or other corporate transactions. Certainly the global players are using the patent system to maintain value and as a tool to compete.

We conducted a case study on the patent portfolio of the Quorn business at the time of the acquisition in 2015. The business was established in the mid-1960s when there was already concern about protein security with increasing world population. A collaboration between ICI and RHM, with IP developed also by Du Pont, led to identification of a species of fungi that could utilise waste from RHM's flour production. The fermentation and mycocelium production was optimised and MAFF granted a licence to sell the product as a foodstuff in 1984. The JV, known as Marlow Foods (MF), became wholly owned by ICI in 1990, then, when the biological products divisions were spun out, Zeneca, latterly AstraZeneca. MF was Private Equity (PE) owned for a couple of years in the mid-2000's before being acquired by Premier Foods in 2005. PF had to rationalise its brands in 2011 and sold the business to another PE. In 2015 the PE exited, selling to Monde Nissin of the Philippines for Ł550M in 2015.

Identifying the patent rights owned by the various players through the life of the business required a multi-faceted approach. There were several parties contributing technology, and the early patent rights were mostly published in the name of the original corporate owner. These were found by searching (full text and titles) for the species of fungus, then checking for similar subject-matter in the same corporate names and/or with common inventorship. As the commercial transactions took place, existing patent and trade mark rights were usually assigned, and this allowed related names to be identified in the patent databases. These could then be checked again.

The publications show the history of the R&D that went into building the business through its various phases. Although the early patents had of course expired by the time of the 2015 transaction, there was a significant portfolio of patents on innovations made in the AZ era. These no doubt supported the company assets at the first period it was owned by a PE. In addition many of those patent rights were still in force at the time of the 2015 transaction, and were acknowledged by the company to be important rights during the most recent transaction. There was little patent filing in the PF period, but the trade mark rights were consolidated during this period. The business also relies on considerable know-how in the processing and recipes such that they are confident that the business is relatively safe from competitive new entrants. The IPR portfolio including patents, trade marks and confidential information/know-how is a barrier that should keep the company's ability to keep a niche part of the market clear of significant competition, to support profitability and justify the price paid by the new owners.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.