Oatly, the Swedish oat milk company, has been in the news recently with their initial public offering occurring just last month. Initially priced at $17, shares jumped to $22 on the first day of trading and have been as high as $29 since (which equates to a market cap of over $17 billion!). In the last few years, oat milk has quickly become one of the most popular milk alternatives, and Oatly clearly stands to benefit as the first (founded in 1994) and largest oat milk company. Of course, one of the ways Oatly is protecting their market position is through the use of patents.
To date, Oatly has six granted U.S. patents. Their earliest filed patent dates back to September 1994, granted as U.S. Patent No. 5,686,123, and is now expired. The claims related to “a method for preparing a homogeneous and stable cereal suspension containing intact β-glucans and having the taste and aroma of natural oats” as well as products produced by the method. A few of the other patents are also now expired including U.S. Patent Nos. 6,190,708, 6,592,914, and 6,451,369.
While Oatly is best known for oat milk, they also make other oat-based products. This fact is reflected in the claims of U.S. Patent No. 7,160,564 that covers “a process for preparing a fermented product selected from the group consisting of yogurt, yogurt drink, smoothie, crème fraiche, sour cream and spread based on an oat suspension free from soy and dairy milk.”
Their most recently granted patent, U.S. Patent No. 9,743,684, relates to “a process for preparing a liquid oat base or drink of improved soluble oat protein content from an oats material comprising starch and oat protein.” According to the disclosure, the new process provides an oat drink or base with improved protein content by using a protein deamidase to solubilize the oat protein without the use of a protease.
Some of Oatly’s currently pending patent applications focus on the use of vegetable protein isolate (e.g., pea, potato, faba bean, chickpea, or lentil protein isolate). For example, U.S. Pub. No. 2019/0110501 discloses products with enhanced viscosity by providing a mixture of deamidated oat base and vegetable protein isolate and crosslinking the glutamine and lysine units of the protein isolate by a transglutaminase enzyme. Similarly, U.S. Pub. No. 2018/0213835 describes an oat-based vegetable health drink with potato protein or other vegetable protein with a similar composition.
While a strong patent portfolio can benefit any company, this is all the more true for those in a rapidly growing and competitive market like that of plant-based foods. Patents on improved processes and products with additional components like vegetable protein isolate can help Oatly stay ahead as other companies like Silk and Chobani release competing oat-based products.