BMC Wins IP Battle Over Meati in Alt-Meat Showdown

In a significant development in the alternative meat industry, a judge has largely ruled in favor of The Better Meat Co. (BMC) in its intellectual property dispute with rival startup Meati Foods. The ruling, delivered by Judge Kimberly J. Mueller in the Eastern District of California on June 7, dismissed Meati’s claims to BMC’s patents and criticized Meati for its litigation tactics, describing them as “inexplicable,” “sandbagging,” and “shenanigans.”

The legal battle between the two companies has been ongoing since late 2021, when BMC filed a lawsuit against Meati, then known as Emergy. BMC accused Meati of attempting to undermine its intellectual property to hinder BMC’s fundraising efforts. Meati countered by alleging that BMC had stolen its IP. Both companies utilize submerged biomass fermentation to produce fungi-based meat alternatives from Neurospora strains.

Founded in 2015 by Dr. Tyler Huggins and Dr. Justin Whiteley, Colorado-based Meati initially focused on developing renewable batteries using filamentous fungi before shifting to alternative meat. The company has raised $365 million and recently began production at its ‘Mega Ranch’ in Thornton, Colorado, with its products now available in over 6,000 stores.

In contrast, California-based BMC, founded in 2018 by Joanna Bromley, Adam Yee, and Paul Shapiro, initially concentrated on plant-based meat enhancers. In June 2021, BMC announced its work on a filamentous fungi-based meat alternative called Rhiza, developed at a demo-scale plant in Sacramento. BMC has raised $27 million to date.

The crux of the dispute revolves around a U.S. patent assigned to BMC in July 2021. The patent’s named inventor, Augustus H. Pattillo, had previously worked with Meati through a Department of Energy fellowship at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago before joining BMC in early 2019. Meati’s founders, Huggins and Whiteley, argued that it was impossible for BMC to have developed its product so quickly without Pattillo taking proprietary information from Meati. They contended that they should have been named inventors on the BMC patent.

However, BMC maintained that Meati had failed to provide any evidence that it had identified the novel claim terms of the BMC patent, shared any relevant concepts with Pattillo, or was actively researching meat replacement uses of mycelium before 2019. Despite repeated requests for specifics, BMC claimed that Meati had not provided admissible evidence to corroborate Huggins’ and Whiteley’s testimony.

Judge Mueller’s order largely sided with BMC, allowing some trade secret claims made by Meati to proceed but rejecting Meati’s core patent claims. She stated that Meati had not provided sufficient evidence to support its opposition, citing a lack of particular parts of materials in the record to corroborate Huggins’ and Whiteley’s testimony. Additionally, she criticized Meati for serving BMC with almost 3,000 pages of documents the night before a May 17 hearing without a credible explanation for the delay.

“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,” Judge Mueller wrote. “Rather than showing there is any genuine dispute of material fact, Emergy’s [Meati’s] actions lead the court to doubt Emergy [Meati] is pursuing its claims for a proper purpose in the first place.”

While the judge found that Meati had identified genuine disputes of material fact regarding trade secret claims, it appears that both parties have agreed to end their 2.5-year legal battle. A Meati Foods spokesperson stated, “The case has been concluded satisfactorily and we don’t have any further comment at this time.” A Better Meat Co. spokesperson added, “This case is now concluded, and we look forward to continuing to build a better food system.”

The ruling is a clear win for BMC, removing the uncertainty surrounding its intellectual property and potentially aiding its efforts to secure additional funding to scale its operations. The decision also underscores the importance of concrete evidence in IP disputes, particularly in the fast-evolving alternative meat industry.

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