How a Swiss start-up protects its inventions
The topic of meat substitutes is on everyone's lips here in Switzerland, as in many countries. At the forefront of Swiss manufacturers in this field is the start-up Planted, whose success is partly due to its systematic protection of intellectual property.
Monday, August 8, 2022
More and more consumers are considering meat alternatives. They’re looking to limit their consumption of meat, or give it up completely, for ethical or environmental reasons. Many manufacturers are therefore offering meat substitutes as an alternative. For example, the vegan products of ETH spin-off company Planted, made from peas, are designed to taste particularly like meat products. And apparently they do – the start-up is winning prize after prize and expanding to other countries. In 2021, Planted was voted Swiss start-up of the year.
Everyone at the start-up invested a lot of time, money and effort to transform the initial idea into a market-ready product. The company recognised from an early stage that systematically protecting innovative products is crucial to success. “Intellectual property was a major priority from the beginning. That hasn’t changed since,” says Judith Wemmer, Head of Product Development and Intellectual Property (IP) Manager at Planted. After all, innovative companies are not just popular with consumers but also attract competitors. Trade marks, patents and other means of protection keep free riders at bay, allowing companies to keep control over their innovations. And ultimately, it’s about economic factors. “Potential investors want to know if a start-up owns IP rights,” Judith Wemmer says from experience. Financial backers see protected innovations as an important asset. “Above all, our IP strategy should enable us to continue to produce and market innovative products. What’s paramount to achieving our vision is that we want to offer food products that are better than animal meat in every respect.”
“Use the Assisted Patent Search service”
Gathering information is a key step towards patent protection. Knowledge is power, particularly in the business world. Judith Wemmer regularly uses the IPI’s Assisted Patent Search service. “When we have a project, we want to quickly find out who’s doing the same thing on the market and in which fields certain technologies are already being used,” she says. She explains that patent specification databases provide the answers. They enable her to find out how a technology is being used in the market and whether a planned invention is novel and can therefore be patented. “Use the Assisted Patent Search service. It has always provided us with valuable insights,” recommends Judith. The next search appointment has already been scheduled. “They’re on the ball,” says patent expert Sibilla Delorenzi, who specialises in food technologies. She’s been assisting Judith since her first search. She also says that it’s not (yet) a given for a start-up to engage with IP protection at such an early stage and that Planted is setting an example in this regard.
Planted applies to patent its inventions whenever this is possible and in line with its strategy. Another important element is trade secrets. For traditional production processes, particularly in the food industry, the details are often a closely guarded trade secret. Coca-Cola, for example, protects its recipe in this way. Under its IP strategy, the Planted brand is also protected as a trade mark. A brand is a seal of the quality that a company stands for, which it uses to set itself apart from its competitors. Those who put effort into branding add huge value to their company.
With its trade marks, patents, trade secrets and consistent patent literature searches, Planted has developed an IP strategy tailored to its particular needs. IP manager Judith Wemmer sums up her enthusiasm for intellectual property in one short sentence said with full conviction: “I love the topic of patents.”
This article appeared as a first publication on May 4, 2022 on the website of the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property under the title: "A strategy for success – how a Swiss start-up protects its inventions".
Patents protect innovation and at the same time they drive innovation. During our Swiss-Food Talk on August 15, three innovation experts discussed the importance of patents for the Swiss economy.
The European Patent Office reports more patent applications for 2022 than ever before. A particularly large number of patents were filed in the field of sustainable technologies - such as clean energy. Switzerland is still one of the most innovative countries in the world, ranking seventh in Europe. To ensure that this remains the case, policymakers must continue to advocate for research-friendly framework conditions in the future.