WILMINGTON, DEL. — Impossible Foods is suing Motif FoodWorks for patent infringement, claiming the Boston-based startup copied its technology for replicating the taste of animal meat.

Impossible Foods launched its plant-based burger featuring yeast-derived leghemoglobin, or heme, in 2016 and received a patent for it in 2020. Touted as a key ingredient for mimicking conventional meat, heme creates meaty aromas and caramelized, beefy notes when cooked with other ingredients like amino acids, sugars and vitamins. It also makes meat-free burgers appear pink and “bleed” when being prepared.

Motif FoodWorks introduced Hemami, a yeast-derived heme protein for use in plant-based meat alternatives, late last year.

The lawsuit, filed in Delaware federal court on March 9, claimed Motif’s Hemami technology infringes on an Impossible Foods patent for a meat alternative that contains heme. Specifically, Impossible Foods cited its patent for a “beef replica product” that contains, among other things, “a muscle replica of between 0.1% and 5% heme-containing protein.”

The company alleged Motif FoodWorks had opportunities to obtain non-public information regarding its proprietary methods for making the heme protein. It also referenced marketing claims from Motif that depict Hemami as a substitute for its proprietary technology.

Motif FoodWorks does not produce or sell finished plant-based meat alternatives, but it has created products for demonstrations at trade shows. It also partnered with restaurant chain Coolgreens for consumer testing. Impossible Foods identified those activities as patent infringement, alleging Motif has “actively induced its business partners to make, use, sell and/or offer for sale the infringing burger.” The company is asking for an undisclosed amount of money and an order blocking the sale of the products made with Hemami.

A spokesperson for Motif FoodWorks refuted the claims made in the lawsuit, telling Food Business News the complaint is “nothing more than a baseless attempt by Impossible Foods to stifle competition, limit consumer choice and impede Motif.”

“We intend to contest these allegations vigorously and will respond through the appropriate legal channels,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to pursue our go-to-market strategy.”