PTAB Strikes Down Impossible Patent Claims

In a significant development in the ongoing legal battle between Impossible Foods and Motif FoodWorks, the US Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) has invalidated 23 out of 24 claims in a patent held by Impossible Foods. This decision follows a challenge by Motif FoodWorks but comes alongside the PTAB’s denial to review six other patents that were also under dispute.

The high-profile litigation, which began in March 2022, revolves around the use of heme proteins to create meaty flavors in plant-based meat alternatives. Impossible Foods utilizes a heme protein identical to soy leghemoglobin, naturally found in the roots of nitrogen-fixing plants like soy. On the other hand, Motif FoodWorks’ HEMAMI heme protein mimics bovine myoglobin, a protein found in cow muscle tissue. Both companies produce their respective heme proteins through precision fermentation using genetically engineered yeast strains.

Impossible Foods has accused Motif of intellectual property theft, asserting that Motif’s products infringe upon its patents. Motif, however, contends that their heme proteins are distinct from those of Impossible Foods and argues that many of the patent claims made by Impossible Foods are either obvious or previously disclosed in the prior art.

The PTAB’s recent decision specifically targets Impossible Foods’ US patent 9,943,096, which covers methods and compositions for creating a ground beef-like food product that produces beef-associated aromas when cooked, despite containing no animal products. The PTAB concluded that Motif had successfully demonstrated that the majority of the claims in this patent were unpatentable.

However, the PTAB denied six out of seven of Motif’s requests to review other patents held by Impossible Foods, stating that Motif had not shown a reasonable likelihood of prevailing with respect to at least one challenged claim in those cases. This mixed outcome leaves the broader patent landscape largely intact for Impossible Foods, pending further legal proceedings.

The implications of the PTAB’s decision on the ongoing litigation remain uncertain. Impossible Foods has noted in court filings that the decision is subject to rehearing or appeal, which could potentially reverse or modify the outcome. In related patent infringement litigation, final written decisions from the PTAB can be admissible, providing defendants with a powerful argument that one cannot infringe a patent deemed invalid by the PTAB. However, preliminary decisions by the PTAB to review or not to review patents are generally not admissible in court.

The litigation between Impossible Foods and Motif FoodWorks, now in its third year, has been marked by numerous twists and turns. Recently, Motif accused Impossible of hiring private investigators to covertly gather information about Motif’s products. The court, however, found that these actions did not violate professional conduct rules.

Adding another layer to the complex legal landscape, the European Patent Office (EPO) revoked an EU patent held by Impossible Foods in late 2022. Impossible Foods has appealed this decision, but it maintains that the EPO’s ruling has no bearing on its legal dispute with Motif in the United States.

As of now, both companies have remained tight-lipped about the latest developments. Impossible Foods did not respond to requests for comment, while Motif FoodWorks declined to provide a statement on the ongoing litigation.

This case continues to be closely watched by the foodtech industry, as its outcome could have far-reaching implications for intellectual property rights and innovation in the rapidly evolving field of plant-based meats.

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