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


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 £550M 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

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

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
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
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions