From borrowing science from other ingredients to patent trolls and piggy-backing on other company’s positive new dietary ingredient (NDI) applications, the dietary supplements industry has a history of IP theft, said Majeed.
Speaking with NutraIngredients-USA following Sabinsa’s recent announcement that is has received approval for seven new patents (taking the company’s global patent portfolio to 87), Majeed said that there seems to be little to no industry efforts to look at the issue of IP protection.
“It’s almost every man for himself,” he said. “People may take note of any press release announcing an infringement or lawsuit, but rarely contemplate getting into a discussion about it.
“The industry has a history of IP theft. Sabinsa has dealt with it from the beginning, and the rampant ‘borrowed’ science practice is probably what established the practice of IP theft in the supplements industry: manufacturers were fine with using products relying on science not actually done on that ingredient.
“Now we’re seeing follow-on products infringing on NDI’s, which is disturbing because if the manufacturing process isn’t identical, the product isn’t the same. Ultimately the consumer pays the price in not getting the results they expect and deserve. And the industry pays the price in undermining innovation, which is what drives new product sales. It’s just short sighted.”
Marc Ullman from law firm Ullman, Shapiro & Ullman LLP, agreed that there has definitely been an increase in IP infringements and said that the industry is not talking about the issue enough. “‘Borrowed science’ is an industry euphemism,” he told us. “It’s not borrowed, it’s stolen science. Companies are misappropriating science from patented ingredients.”
A costly exercise
Defending a patent can be costly, with some estimates from the American Intellectual Property Owners Association indicating that it costs about $1 million to defend a patent when the amount at risk is less than $1 million, and about $6 million when more than $25 million is at risk.