Impossible Foods Sues Competitor Over Meat Alternative Technology

On Wednesday, March 9, Impossible Foods Inc. filed suit against Motif FoodWorks, Inc. alleging that Motif infringed on Impossible Foods’ meat replica patent by selling its own imitation burger.

Impossible Foods is known for its meat imitation products such as its Impossible Burger, Impossible Sausage, and Impossible Meatballs. According to the complaint, its Impossible Burger is award-winning and “recreates the entire sensory experience of eating meat despite being made from plants, without any actual meat or meat-derived ingredients.”

According to the complaint, Impossible Foods was founded in 2011 after which it assembled a team of scientists to research which biological molecules are responsible for the way meat looks, cooks, and tastes. The research uncovered the molecule heme, which “gives meat its bloody taste when raw and creates the intense, meaty flavors and aromas when it’s cooked.” Impossible Foods produces its heme using a proprietary strain of genetically modified Pichia yeast that produces a hemoprotein molecule that contains heme, called soy leghemoglobin, through a fermentation process.

Motif FoodWorks, Inc. spun out of genetic engineering company Ginkgo Bioworks Inc. in 2019, according to the complaint. Its meat imitation products contain the ingredient HEMAMI, which, according to a quote allegedly taken from its website, “tastes and smells like meat because it uses the same naturally occurring heme protein.” Motif also allegedly stated in an April 2021 submission to the FDA that its myoglobin, which Impossible Foods believes is contained in Motif’s HEMAMI, is “produced by fermentation from a modified strain of Pichia pastoris expressing the myoglobin gene from Bos taurus.”

The complaint cites the doctrine of equivalents, a legal doctrine that states that patent infringement may be found even if the infringement is not a literal replica, but the elements of the patent and the allegedly infringing invention are sufficiently equivalent in both what they do and how they do it. 

Motif allegedly has presented its meat replica burger containing HEMAMI at trade shows, has partnered with a restaurant chain to produce and sell the replica burgers, continues to receive HEMAMI from a HEMAMI manufacturer, and is currently constructing a research, development, and production facility that it will use to manufacture HEMAMI and products containing HEMAMI. 

Impossible Foods asserts that Motif has also endorsed the idea of HEMAMI as a substitute for Impossible Foods’ patented technology. It cites a Motif retweet of an article in The Spoon that stated that the launch of HEMAMI “is good news if you’re a maker of alt-meat products who wants to replicate Impossible’s proprietary plant-based heme, because now instead of spending tens of millions trying to build it yourself, now you can buy a similar technology from Motif.” 

Additional Reading

Impossible Foods sues startup Motif Foodworks over meatless burger patent, Reuters (March 9, 2022)

Impossible Foods Inc. v. Motif Foodworks, Inc. Complaint (March 9, 2022)

Impossible Foods Inc. v. Motif Foodworks, Inc. Justia Docket

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