Food companies have joined with gusto the legal race to win monopoly control of discoveries in nanotechnology that could help them market novel new products, according to a Spanish research firm.
However smaller food companies and developing countries risk being muscled out of the market by larger food processors who have the money to pay for the research and an army of lawyers to keep control of the technology through intellectual property rights, the ETC Group said in a global report on nanotechnology patents.
In an interview with FoodProductionDaily.com, ETC researcher Hope Shand said the patent survey indicated that food companies are patenting nano-scale products and processes like other sectors.
The trend is likely to accelerate. Since the research is still in its infancy legal battles could still be part of the industry's future.
"Virtually anytime you read a company's news release touting a new innovation in nano-scale food technology -- you can bet there's at least one patent already issued or applied for," she said. "That's business as usual. It's too early to predict whether or not we'll see licensing wars related to applications of nano-scale technologies in food. The food industry giants such as Kraft and Nestle, are not likely to have a problem with barriers involving exclusive monopoly patents. They have the economic muscle and lawyers to acquire a competing start-up, if necessary, or to patent around a new innovation."
In its report on nanotech patent applications ETC found that the world's largest transnationals, leading academic labs and nanotech start-ups are all
racing to win monopoly control of tiny tech's colossal market.
Ironically for the food industry the largest single holder of nanotech patents in the world is a Chinese researcher, Yang Mengjun. He has 900 patents on ancient Chinese medicinal herbs, by claiming to reduce them to nano-scale formulations.
Similar patents are being granted in the US and Europe. For example, the Pacific Corporation (Korea) has won a European patent on nanoscale ginseng for use in cosmetic products. The Pacific Corporation claims that an emulsion of ginseng at the nano-scale allows it to penetrate the skin, exerting an antiaging effect.
"Patent claims on nano-scale formulations of traditional herbal plants are providing insidious pathways to monopolize traditional resources and knowledge – one more reason why the Convention on Biological Diversity and FAO should address the implications of nanotechnology," ETC stated.