Oats, kidney beans and mushroom protein are part of the plate model of the future. Rapidly changing food trends are fuelled by conscious younger generations, concern for the environment and media spotlight. Kolster’s European Patent Attorney Kirsi-Marja Pitkänen explains why patenting is worthwhile even amid the fast movement of megatrends.
New generations are open-minded experimenters who nimbly embrace new products in their everyday lives. Ethical values are driving consumption choices more strongly than before – and then swiftly in new directions.
“Because food trends change rapidly and the life cycle of products is remarkably short, food manufacturers may feel that patenting innovations is too slow and a challenging cost item for them. However, the benefits of a patent are considerable in relation to the time and resources it requires”, says Kolster’s European Patent Attorney Kirsi-Marja Pitkänen.
The reason is not the product itself, but the lessons and secrets from its manufacture. Even if a particular product is withdrawn from the market, the patented technology developed for it may later prove to be invaluable. New products can be developed based on the technology, or it can be utilised outside the food industry.
“A fading trend may also rise back into the spotlight stronger than ever. That is what happened with quark, for example: the age-old ingredient of mum’s quark-filled buns suddenly became a protein bomb loved by athletes.”
A patent also provides invaluable protection against competitors and copying. Even if the patented product is no longer on the market, patent protection can be valid for 20 years.
“During that time, a competitor may develop something similar, the manufacture and sale of which can be banned under the patent’s right to prohibit. Large food companies closely monitor the actions of their competitors and actively lodge oppositions to repeal patent applications filed by others.”
“Food product development relies heavily on external trends and global phenomena. Climate change and vegetarianism are making companies develop environmentally friendly meat and milk substitutes, ensure a responsible and transparent production process and packaging materials, and indicate the carbon footprint of the products in the product description”, Pitkänen says.
Patents and patented technology can also be licensed to partners, allowing you to grow your own business without significant additional investment. The patent holder can control who is granted a licence and who is not, thus ensuring, for example, the quality criteria that are so important in the food industry.
It is also important to protect food products with trademarks. Trademarks give consumers a certain kind of image of the product, and can thus strongly influence a consumer’s purchasing behaviour.
The media also has a significant impact on innovation. When the health and fitness trend intensified and the protein content of quark was noted in the media, the surprising hype emptied the quark shelves at grocery shops. Since then, oats have taken over the media spotlight.
“On shop shelves, you can already find pure oat bread, oat drinks, oat ice cream, snack products and liquorice or chocolate made from oats. However, oat products are a fairly Nordic phenomenon for the time being.”
A global stir is being created in patenting by meat substitutes based on plant-based ingredients, such as Beanit, pulled oats, and seitan. The target of patenting may be a known product or material that has not previously been used in food. Patenting new manufacturing methods is also common.
“The patenting of meat substitutes is a global and growing phenomenon that focuses on protecting, for example, the manufacturing methods required to achieve a particular texture – such as ways to keep plant-based ingredients solid when cooked”, Pitkänen says.
An expanding selection helps consumers find products that suit their lifestyle, but at the same time, growing awareness of the impact of food ingredients, manufacture and consumption on people and the environment introduces more agony.
“The amount of information makes food consumption rocket science: what are you now allowed to eat in good conscience and what are you not? Which ingredients are ethical and what kinds of companies do you decide to support? Is palm oil more harmful than meat production, and do you prefer to support domestic oat growers or dairy farmers?”
Consumers have many decisions to make – and they may quickly change their minds. That is why a patent in your back pocket provides great security in a world of changing trends.
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