Food Matters Live 2020, 13-14 October, virtual event

08 Nov 2018

Beyond trade marks, protectable intellectual property (IP) is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when one has developed a new food or beverage product.  Why is this the case, especially when so many other industries have readily adopted and employed IP protection to their commercial advantage?

This article is the first in a four-part miniseries, which explores IP in the food industry, the types of protection available, and benefits to your business. 

There are four principal types of intellectual property rights: patents, trade marks, registered designs, and copyright:

  1. Patents provide protection for food/beverage products, manufacturing processes/recipes, machinery, packaging, nutraceutical uses, etc. 
  2. Registered designs provide protection for aesthetic (non-technical) aspects of products, e.g. packaging or aesthetically-pleasing food products.
  3. Trade marks identify a product as being from a particular company.
  4. Copyright comes into existence automatically and, as its name suggests, protects against copying of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works.

Why should I protect my intellectual property?

  • Financial: IP rights add value to your business, are considered assets, and can be licensed out to generate revenue.
  • Corporation Tax Relief: the Patent Box is available for patented inventions.
  • Competitive Advantage: IP rights are monopoly rights meaning that they can serve to ring-fence an area of the market for your product.  This can be used to gain an advantage over competitors or a foothold in a new region, e.g. by prohibiting import of competing products.
  • Investment: The presence of IP rights is attractive to investors, as you are seen to be at lower risk of being outcompeted in a particular market, and can help differentiate your business from competitor companies.  Moreover, granted IP rights can be seen as a stamp of approval, e.g. a patent may indicate that a product is highly innovative.

Debunking the IP Myths

Myth: Food/beverage products are not eligible for protection
Reality: The unique shape of a food product or its packaging can be (and has successfully been) protected by trade marks and registered designs. 

Furthermore, some very familiar food products, such as rice cakes (Quaker Oats – EP1025764), granola bars (Quaker Oats – US4451488), and orange juice (Tropicana – WO 2004/060083) have been the subject of patent protection.  Put simply, if you provide a new and non-obvious technical solution to a problem, then your product or process is patentable.

Myth: Recipes are not patentable
Reality: recipes are patentable so long as they solve a technical problem, such as a recipe that provides bread with improved texture or size (Warburtons - GB2545647).

Myth: Intellectual property protection is for big corporates, not SMEs
Reality: this is simply not true; some of the most innovative products come from SMEs.  Without appropriate IP protection in place, others can simply copy your product and exploit the fruits of your labour.  Having protection prevents this, and moreover differentiates you from your competitors, which can be extremely helpful when trying to attract investor funding.

Myth: Protecting my intellectual property is expensive
Reality: we have a wealth of experience of working with SMEs and helping tailor their portfolios to their budgets.  Protecting your IP at the outset can provide numerous financial benefits in the long-run.

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:

David Hobson - UK & European Patent Attorney at Mathys & Squire LLP, London
David works with UK and overseas clients protecting their food, beverage, and packaging inventions.  David has represented some of Europe’s biggest food and food ingredient companies, including Warburtons, DuPont Nutrition Biosciences, and Plant Biosciences.  Much of David’s patent work has focused around enzyme biotechnology, including its application in the food and pharmaceutical industries.  He has also represented clients specialising in the field of probiotics, prebiotics, and food supplements. David has experience in all patent matters including: drafting, international prosecution, IP due diligence (for investment purposes), freedom to operate, oppositions, and appeals.

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