SANTA ANA, CALIF. — PureCircle USA, Inc., a stevia sweetener supplier, has accused a competitor, SweeGen, Inc., of infringing upon a patent that involves Rebaudioside M, a steviol glycoside inside the stevia leaf that closely resembles the sweetness of sugar. PureCircle USA, Chicago, requests that it be awarded damages in an amount to be determined at a jury trial, according to the lawsuit filed Sept. 17 in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California in Santa Ana.

SweeGen, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., together with its licensor, has access to 13 patents granted and over 130 patent applications pending worldwide regarding stevia sweeteners.The company’s patent portfolio includes at least seven novel methods for producing plant-based Reb M.

“SweeGen will defend and protect its strong I.P. (intellectual property) position, with deepest respect to innovative intellectual property for the benefit of consumers globally,” SweeGen said.

PureCircle owns or co-owns 77 U.S. patents, according to the lawsuit.

The patent, U.S. Patent No. 9,243,273, involves the conversion of Rebaudioside D to Rebaudioside X, also known as Rebaudioside M, by using an enzyme called UDP-glucosyltransferase. The technology makes Reb M, found sparingly in the stevia leaf, more cost-effective for use in reducing sugar in applications like beverages, dairy products and other food items. The patent was issued Jan. 26, 2016.

SweeGen on Feb. 21, 2017, announced the commercialization of its Bestevia Rebaudioside M, according to the lawsuit, and described the process for making it as a “proprietary and patent-pending bioconversion” and also an “enzymatic conversion.” According to the lawsuit, SweeGen has an exclusive license agreement with Conagen, which owns U.S. Patent No. 10,023,604 issued on July 17 of this year. That patent involves a method for converting Reb D to Reb M. The PureCircle lawsuit claims Bestevia Reb M is made by converting Reb D to Reb M using UDP-glucosyltransferase.

“On information and belief, defendants have committed acts of infringement, both directly and indirectly, within this district and the state of California by, inter alia (among other things), making, using, selling, offering for sale, importing, advertising and/or promoting products in this district that infringe one or more claims of the patent-in-suit,” the lawsuit said.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are PureCircle USA, Inc., a subsidiary of PureCircle Ltd., and PureCircle, Sdn Bhd, which is based in Kualu Lumpur, Malaysia, and also a subsidiary of PureCircle Ltd. Defendants are SweeGen and its affiliate, Phyto Tech Corp., Rancho Santa Margarita, doing business as Blue California.