BOSTON — Motif FoodWorks is challenging the validity of Impossible Foods’ patent for a meat alternative containing heme.

Impossible Foods launched its plant-based burger featuring yeast-derived heme in 2016 and received a patent for it in 2020. Touted as a key ingredient for mimicking animal protein, heme imparts a meaty flavor and color when combined with other ingredients.

The company in March filed a lawsuit claiming Motif FoodWorks infringed on its patent with Hemami, a yeast-derived heme protein for use in plant-based meat alternatives, which became commercially available for large-scale distribution late last year. Specifically, Impossible Foods cited its patent for a “beef replica product” that contains, among other things, “a muscle replica of between 0.1% and 5% heme-containing protein.”

Now, Motif FoodWorks is firing back, alleging Impossible Foods should never have been granted the patent in the first place.

In a petition requesting a review of the patent, Motif FoodWorks identified relevant patents and literature that were public before the earliest date that Impossible Foods claims to have discovered its invention. The ingredient Impossible Foods claims to have discovered has been sold in food products for decades, the petition claims, arguing that inclusion of a heme protein in a meat alternative product is not patentable.

The petition also states that Impossible Food’s heme ingredient is identical to soy leghemoglobin, which is found in plants, while Motif FoodWork’s Hemami ingredient is identical to bovine myoglobin, which is found in the muscle tissue of cows.

Motif FoodWorks plans to file a motion asking the district court where Impossible Foods filed its lawsuit to stay the litigation pending action from the patent office.

“Impossible’s claims are a legally and factually baseless attempt to stifle innovation and limit consumer choice to preserve its own profits,” a spokesperson for Motif FoodWorks said. “We are confident the Patent Trial and Appeal Board will agree with our view that the patent never should have been issued and revoke it. Our industry should work together to grow the plant-based category for the greater good… Competition is healthy. And it should play out in the marketplace, not the courts.”

A spokesperson for Impossible Foods told Food Business News the company is confident in the strength of its patent.

“Motif's stunt is a baseless and meritless attempt to distract from the fact that they have infringed on our patent and are unlawfully using our technology to build their business,” the spokesperson said. “Furthermore, Motif's misleading claim that bovine myoglobin is fundamentally different from Impossible Foods’ heme protein is irrelevant and doesn't change the fact that they have infringed.”