15 Nov 2018
Food and drink companies are all too aware of the challenges faced in order to attract and retain new customers. The search for a competitive edge has led companies to invest heavily in research and innovation in order to produce the requisite taste, mouthfeel, appearance and nutritional value to attract potential customers whilst simultaneously reducing production costs. There is also the added pressure to keep abreast of (or stimulate) the latest consumer trends, such as the rise in vegetarianism, veganism, interesting new alcohol-free drinks, healthier versions of comfort food, and the use of AI within the food industry, as well as meeting the requirements of new governmental policies.
Producing food and drink products which meet of all these requirements can provide companies with a competitive advantage however the question remains, how can this advantage be maintained and how do companies prevent competitors reaping the rewards from their research and investment?
Typically, there are two methods used within the food and drink industry to protect intellectual property: trade secrets and patents.
Trade secrets can be useful where it is difficult (if not impossible) to derive the ingredients or process used to produce the food or drink product. The most well-known trade secret in the food and drink industry is arguably the recipe for Coca Cola. However, trade secrets provide no protection if another company legitimately produces the same product or manufacturing process or successfully reverse engineers the product produced.
Patents therefore provide a better form of protection where it is possible to derive the recipe from the food or drink product itself. This may be the case where a recipe or composition could be determined by simply analysing the end product.
Bitesize facts about patents
What is a patent?
A patent is an intellectual property right granted by a country’s government for protection of an invention within its territory for a limited period (typically 20 years).
How can a patent help my business?
A patent gives the owner the right to stop others making, using, importing or selling the invention in the territory for which the patent has been granted. It also allows the owner to seek compensation for damage caused by another company producing/selling/using the same product or using the same manufacturing process.
Even if your company is not looking to manufacture the product itself, patents can be useful in helping to generate investment or can form the basis of a licensing agreement.
How can I obtain patent protection?
In order to obtain patent protection it is necessary to illustrate that your invention is both new and provides a non-obvious solution to a technical problem. It is also necessary to illustrate that the invention has industrial applicability, though most products/processes within the food and drink industry will meet this requirement.
What types of products/processes can be protected within the food and drink industry?
Examples of products which would meet the requirements of patent protection include: food or drink products having an improved taste, texture or appearance whilst reducing fat or sugar content; a combination of ingredients which produce a synergistic effect; a non-obvious substitution for a commonly used ingredient (which is particularly important given the new governmental policies); and methods of altering the flavour profile of food and drink products.
Processing methods within the food and drink industry can also be protected, whether these relate to more cost effective manufacturing methods; methods of providing improved mixing of ingredients; or new process steps which provide an unexpected result in the product. In line with this, and given the increased desire to produce environmentally friendly products, new environmentally friendly or biodegradable packaging could also be granted patent protection.
Mathys & Squire will be attending Food Matters Live on 20–22 November. For any queries about protecting and commercialising your intellectual property, please find us at Stand 972 or call on 0207 830 0000
About the author:
UK & European Patent Attorney at Mathys & Squire LLP, London
Laura Clews is a Chartered Patent Attorney and a European Patent Attorney experienced in the drafting and prosecution of patent applications in the UK, Europe and worldwide.
Laura has made a number of IP and food related media appearances, including: discussing trade secrets within the food industry on BBC Radio's The Food Chain: Trade Secrets; featuring on a podcast discussing the importance of IP in the food industry for Food Matters Live; and publishing articles regarding cell-cultured meat which have since featured in Food Manufacture magazine and Food & Drink Technology magazine.