First published in food australia magazine Nov/Dec 2016 issue

Australia is fast becoming a world leader in food and agriculture innovation, with businesses from start-ups to multinationals creating intellectual property.

In the last 10 years over 500,000 international patent applications were filed in food chemistry alone, with around 1.4% of these originating in Australia. This indicates that 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.

IP value in your business

Although sometimes unrealised, there could be significant value in the intellectual property in your business, especially if you have developed a new product that solves a problem faced by your consumers. For example, Kraft Foods recently solved the problem of milk-based coffees requiring several cooking appliances 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). Nonetheless, it does demonstrate the use of patents to protect innovative products.

A patent could also be obtained for fragments of a natural molecule (e.g., a protein), or treated (e.g., hydrolysed) natural materials. This was the approach of the Quaker Oats Company, which recently filed a patent application for foods and beverages containing hydrolysed oat flour, found to have higher fibre levels (which is therefore supposedly healthier) than existing oatmeal products.

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 competitors. It is certainly worth investigating whether your business is adequately leveraging the significant resources devoted to innovation and new product development.