Scrutinizing the Relevance of Patents in the Food Industry

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The culinary industry is one of the most lucrative industries in the world. The Indian food industry is estimated to be valued at around US dollar 1.3 billion and is growing at an expedited rate of 20 percent every year. In 2020, food in India’s retail sector was valued at around INR 61 lakh crore. According to a report by the Economic Research Service, the U.S Department of Agriculture, it has been enumerated that the top 50 food manufacturers account for 20 percent of global packaged food sales, thus making it one of the most significant sectors in the world. Like any other industry, the food industry is also fuelled by innovation. Several palatable food products are a result of extensively researched scientific procedures. The creation of food products involving scientific processes results from innovation and is hence, protectable by law. Thus, the techniques and various other by-products used to create food items can be considered a type of Intellectual Property. Several types of IP are relevant in the food industry. Trademarks and copyrights may apply to the packaging and labeling of a food item. Similarly, recipes of a particular food item or scientific processes required to manufacture a food item can be patented.

Food Industry

 

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A patent can be defined as an exclusive right granted to an inventor or an assignee for a limited period. If a particular invention is patented, no other commercial entity or individual can manufacture or create a replica of the patented invention. The Indian Patent Act’s 2005 amendment has stated the guidelines for patenting food-related inventions. According to section 3(e) of the Act, it has been specified that the recipe cannot be a “mere admixture of substances resulting in aggregation of properties of the components”. Apart from this, the recipe should be novel and must have an element of non-obviousness. This means that the recipe should be inventive and should consist of original input from the creator. Additionally, the food product should have an industrial application. The recipe of the food product created should be utilized for consumption and must have some monetary value in the market. In the United States of America, Patent Class 426 permits the patenting of foods and recipes. The standards for patenting food products or procedures in the USA are the same as standards set according to the Indian Patent Act. However, an additional step is that full disclosure of the food-based invention must be made for patenting purposes. This includes describing the steps involved in creating the food product or a detailed description of the components involved in the scientific food manufacturing procedure. Over the years, several food patents have been registered in India and abroad. Some examples include a process for preparing deep fat fried potato chips (Patent No. 192889), a method for producing baked potato slices with an expanded texture (Patent No. 257367), a process for manufacturing tea (Patent No. 250544), and the process of preparing soy curd. Food patents are primarily awarded to recipes or culinary procedures that extend the shelf life or processes that expedite the manufacturing process of a particular food item. In some cases, the specific shape of a food item is patented. Moreover, food combinations that mix several flavors have also been patented in the past. For example, storing peanut butter and jelly in the same container was awarded a patent for its novelty (Patent No. US3117871). Apart from this, the USPTO has granted patents for procedures that reduce the calorie total of a food item. Such items may include vegan alternatives such as tofu eggs or plant-based meat products.

Patenting food products comes with several benefits. For one, it provides the inventor or the inventor company a competitive advantage, and it can restrict other entities from creating a similar product and incentivizing it. Patenting also provides a product or procedure with a certain level of credibility. This means that a patented process or food item may be perceived to be of good quality among consumers. This could potentially boost the marketability of the food product. Lastly, patenting a food item or a procedure may allow the inventor or the assignee to license the patented food product or process for additional revenues.

Apart from food products and procedures, other components such as packaging or machinery involved in manufacturing a particular food product can also be patented. For instance, a machine that automatically rolls dough has been granted a patent by the UPSTO (Patent No US 7156642). Packaging plays a pivotal role in extending a product's shelf life and ensuring that the quality of the food item does not deteriorate over time. In the past, innovative packaging systems have been patented. This includes Patent No. US8341925, which was granted for a method of packing a food product to ensure extended shelf life. The packaging container was subjected to a temperate of 115 degrees Celsius to create formable slices of fruits and vegetables that could be preserved and used for a long time. Other examples include Patent No. US8028503, a method for sealing a food product package with the help of an ultrasonic sealing system and 2258/CHE/2015, a patent granted for a multitier packaging system designed to carry multiple food products in the same box. Altering the nutritional value of a food item with the help of scientific procedures has also earned patents. For example, a patent was granted for a process wherein the unhealthy fats from an egg were removed to create a healthier alternative.

The possibilities of patenting various components related to the food industry are limitless. While food patents come with several benefits, it is relatively difficult to obtain one. Thus, the chances of patenting a food product or procedure depend on how skilfully the application is drafted. To obtain a food patent, it is essential to recognize a novel condition in the food product or process that has industrial applicability. Thus, with detailed descriptions and novelty in place, food products, packaging, and related procedures can be patentable.

Author: Sanjana, a BBA LLB student of  Symbiosis Law School (Hyderabad), in case of any queries please contact/write back to us GLOBAL PATENT FILING in case of any queries please contact/write back us at support@globalpatentfiling.com.

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