December 1, 2017

Capitalising on food technology with effective patent strategies

Why you must pay attention to your intellectual property

Australia is quickly becoming a world leader in food and agriculture innovation, with businesses from start-ups to multinationals creating valuable intellectual property (IP). Make sure you determine the value that patent protection could add to your new products or processes, and the competitive advantage that an effective portfolio of food patents could offer.

In the last 10 years over 500,000 international patent applications were filed in the food chemistry arena alone, with only around 1.4% of these originating in Australia. This telling statistic shows that Australian innovators have perhaps fallen to the back of the pack in the protection of their IP. Clearly, while businesses in other countries understand the benefits of using the patent system to protect innovation and provide an advantage over competitors, the patent system is being under-utilised in the Australian food sector.

The value of patents in protecting your innovative products

There could be significant value in the intellectual property vested in your business, especially if you have developed a new product that solves a problem faced by your consumers. For example, Kraft Foods recently filed a food patent application on their innovative solution to the problem of milk-based coffees requiring several different cooking appliances (and a lot of time!) for their preparation by creating a multi-layered tablet that dissolves in hot water, forming coffee with a frothy milk layer and a “spoonable biscuit layer.” Not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee), but nonetheless, it does clearly demonstrate the use of food patents to protect innovative products.

When it comes to patent protection – never say anything is not possible, as there are often ways to work around blanket rules. Although it is widely circulated that patents cannot be obtained when working with natural products – there are many creative ways around this.  For example, a valid patent could be obtained for a product or composition containing fragments of a natural molecule (e.g., a protein), or treated (e.g., hydrolysed) natural materials. This was the approach adopted by the Quaker Oats Company. Quaker Oats recently filed a food patent application for foods and beverages containing hydrolysed oat flour, which is demonstrated to have higher fibre levels (which is therefore supposedly far healthier) than existing oatmeal products.

Patents provide a commercial advantage

Securing intellectual property protection and developing effective intellectual property management strategies in relation to the new ingredients, improved production processes and apparatus, new or improved recipes, packaging, labelling, and/or branding developed by your business can provide a significant commercial advantage over your competitors.

If your business has found a new way of doing something, or developed a new product – it is important to consider whether there is any value in protecting that with a food patent. It is certainly worth investigating whether your business is adequately leveraging the significant resources devoted to innovation and new product development

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