A patent dispute involving the technology used to produce plant-based meat has led to allegations that one of the industry’s major players deployed private investigators to effectively spy on its would-be rival.
The accusations were raised this week in a Delaware federal court, where Impossible Foods has sued Boston-based Motif Foodworks for patent infringement.
Impossible alleged in its complaint last year that Motif violated patents related to the use of a heme protein to create a plant-based beef product.
After Motif’s response was recently unsealed by the court, Reuters detailed the lengths to which Impossible allegedly went to acquire information about the company.
According to Motif’s filings, private investigators acting on Impossible’s behalf allegedly approached its employees after the patent infringement suit was filed, pretending to represent potential customers, such as a fast food company and a meal kit delivery service.
They reportedly sought to obtain samples of Motif’s products and other details about the startup.
In one instance, a woman on a video call with a Motif employee changed her name during the call. Her original name matched the LinkedIn profile of the managing partner of a PI firm.
In another, a man approached a different Motif worker at a San Francisco trade show. His name, however, did not come up with any fast food chains, but instead matched that of the founder of a second investigation firm.
Motif’s filing called Impossible’s conduct "alarming" and "unethical," and asked the court to order Impossible to disclose more of its communications.
Impossible, meanwhile, responded in its own filing that obtaining and evaluating potentially infringing products was common and ethical — and that Motif’s “exaggerated rhetoric" sought to distract from the patent issue at hand.