Judge rules in favor of The Better Meat Co in intellectual property lawsuit against Meati

6 Minutes read

The IP case between mycelium meat producers Meati and The Better Meat Co has come to an end after a judge ruled largely in the latter’s favour.

California-based The Better Meat Co and Colorado-based Meati have ended a two-and-a-half-year intellectual property dispute over their mycelium protein products, clearing the way for the former to pursue fundraising.

As AgFunder reports, an Eastern District of California judge ruled largely in favor of The Better Meat Co, accusing Meati of using “inexplicable” tactics and engaging in “sandbagging.” The court also rejected Meati’s claim regarding The Better Meat Co. patent.

The legal battle began in December 2021 after The Better Meat Co sued Meati for undermining its intellectual property and trying to “intimidate” a less-funded rival. In response, Meati accused the former of stealing his IP address. Both companies produce meat analogues derived from the same strain of mushrooms and using submerged fermentation.

The essence of the matter

Courtesy: The Better Meat Co

Meati was founded in 2015 by Tyler Huggins and Justin Whiteley and has raised $365 million in venture capital funding to date, including last month’s $100 million C1 round. Chicken cutlets and steaks are currently available in more than 6,000 retail locations, and the company plans to increase the number of stores to 10,000 by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, three years later, Paul Shapiro, Joanna Bromley and Adam Yee founded The Better Meat Co. It brought in only $27 million in financing, thanks in part to a lengthy court case. It started as a plant-based meat enhancer company, but was later revealed to be developing meat analogues using filamentous fungi. The Rhiza mycoprotein contained in it is, among others, part of the Chicken Plus line of mixed meats from Perdue Farms.

In July 2021, The Better Meat Co was granted a US patent for this technology, and its inventor was Augustus H. Pattillo. According to CEO Paul Shapiro, Pattillo had previously spent a year working on a Department of Energy fellowship at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, at the same time Meati (then called Emergy and working on renewable batteries) was also working at the federal agency.

In 2019, Pattillo joined The Better Meat Co (BMC), which was accused by Meati of intellectual property theft after receiving the patent. “On information and belief, no one had previously discovered how to obtain a textured mass of mycelium resembling animal flesh before Dr. Huggins and Whitely,” Meatie’s legal team said. Huggins and Whiteley “didn’t believe BMC could have brought the product to market so quickly on its own unless Pattillo took something” from Meati and argued that their names should have been on the patent.

Better Meat Co argued that Meati “failed to provide any evidence that it identified new claim terms for the BMC patent, shared any of the challenged concepts with Mr. Pattillo, or even actively explored meat replacement applications of mycelium prior to 2019.”

The California startup also claimed that Meati failed to provide hard, admissible evidence – despite repeated requests – “to support Huggins and Whiteley’s testimony that they, not Pattillo, first came up with the claims contained in Better Meat’s patents.”

Judge admonishes Meati for “sandbags” and “madness”

Courtesy: Meati

In a California court ruling, Judge Kimberly J. Mueller sided overwhelmingly with The Better Meat Co, granting some of Meati’s continuing trade secret claims but dismissing its core patent claims.

She said Meati “failed to support her objection with citations to specific portions of the material in the file supporting Huggins’ and Whiteley’s testimony that they were among the inventors – or sole inventors – who should have been named in the four Better Meat patents.”

Mueller also described how Meati gave Better Meat Co nearly 30,000 pages of documents the night before the May 17 hearing, which the Colorado-based company said supported its inventory claims. However, the judge said, Meatie’s defense attorney “failed to provide any credible explanation” for why he did not provide such materials earlier, given that the case has been ongoing since December 2021.

“In a case such as this – one that has been ongoing for over two years, in which a plaintiff could reasonably be expected to have the evidence needed to prove its claims – this plaintiff cannot avoid summary judgment through such sandbagging and gibberish,” she added. he said.

Instead of showing any “genuine dispute of material fact”, it concluded that Meati’s conduct made the court question whether he had pursued his claims “primarily for an appropriate purpose”.

Meati focuses on profitability, The Better Meat Co on increasing scale

Courtesy: The Better Meat Co

The ruling is positive for The Better Meat Co., which can now hope to increase its fundraising efforts without the IP albatross around its neck.

The judge said Meati had “identified genuine disputes of material fact in the record” related to the trade secret claims, but the two companies have now agreed to end the dispute. “The matter has been resolved satisfactorily and we have no further comment at this time,” a Meati spokesman said.

Reiterating this, a representative of The Better Meat Co added: “This is now done and we look forward to continuing to build a better food system.”

CEO of Better Meat Co. Shapiro, a longtime animal rights activist, was previously the subject of sexual harassment allegations when he was vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.

After leaving the charity for unrelated reasons in 2018, he told Politico: “I accepted responsibility for inappropriate behavior many years earlier in my career and apologized to those who may have been offended. “However, I cannot respond to allegations that I am not aware of, that were never brought to my former employer or me during the investigation 16 months ago, that allegedly occurred many years ago and, quite frankly, simply never occurred.”

Both Meati and The Better Meat Co will hope to continue their business plans once the case is over. Meati has carried out three rounds of layoffs in the last 12 months, with the latest one laying off 13% of its workforce. There have also been changes at the leadership level, with Phil Graves taking over as CEO from Huggins, who moved into an advisory role when COO and President Scott Tassani left the company.

The Colorado-based startup is currently aiming for profitability and has previously outlined a plan to reach $1 billion in sales by 2025 (although the restructuring has likely pushed back that goal).

Better Meat Co has just announced that it has reduced the cost of its mycoprotein. If produced on a large scale, it will now cost the same as commercial beef, even if no further advances in research and development are made. It now plans to scale up to supply major CPG brands in the U.S. and Asia that have signed letters of intent and agreements to offtake its mycoprotein.

  • Anay is the Green Queen’s resident reporter. Originally from India, he has worked as a vegan writer and editor in London and currently travels and reports across Asia. He is passionate about coffee, plant milk, cooking, food, veganism, food technology, he writes about it all, profiles people and the Oxford comma.