Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful composition of matter may potentially obtain a United States patent. When it comes to food compositions, however, this seemingly broad scope of patentability is judicially tempered.

Novel foods are not patentable unless they demonstrate a “coaction or cooperative relationship between the selected ingredients which produces a new, unexpected and useful function.” In reality, patent applicants find it difficult to satisfy this scientific-sounding rule.

Even if an inventor could hurdle this patenting bar, who would want to eat food whose ingredients coact or cooperate unexpectedly?  Food neophobia—a reluctance to ingest novel foods—is characteristic of omnivores, including humans.[1] To ward against automatic rejection of novel food tastes or flavors, successful patentees must marshal abundant marketing prowess.

This post examines why the patent court formulated this food composition rule, how it is being employed by patent examiners and judges, and how savvy brand managers design subliminal retail strategies to counter innate consumer fear of ingesting novel foods.  Patentable vegan burgers illustrate how this marketing process works in action.


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Truffles mushrooms reside in a Holy Grail land of taste preference. They call to mind ancient French banquet meals and rural truffle hunters and their dogs. Scarce and expensive, the truffle industry satisfies market demand by bottling their musky scent in so-called truffle oils.

The Pacific Northwest is an unsung truffle backwater—when compared to the famous truffle growing regions of Périgord, France and Alba, Italy. Most residents never see, smell nor taste our region’s outstanding earthy delicacy, the Oregon black truffle. Lately though, I’ve binged on them, developing a classic neuropsychological food craving.

Why are truffles such high-end luxury goods and how do they induce food cravings? This post confronts these basic questions. Along the way, it offers some practical advice for home cooks preparing truffles for the first time.


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Pecans are a microcosm of Americana.  As the Stuart Pecan Company would brag in 1893: ‘We [Americans] have rightfully a monopoly upon the nut.’”[1] Wild pecan trees proliferate in riverine ecosystems coursing through the southern United States.  Their domesticated, often patented counterparts now satisfy huge consumer demand for these indigenous nuts, once vital to tribal commerce.  Indeed, the name pecan is derived “from an Algonquin word meaning, loosely translated, ‘a nut too hard to crack by hand.’” Closer scrutiny of my favorite bourbon pecan pie recipe offers some unusual insights into the importance of plant patents, what copyright originality means as applied to classic recipes, and into chef brands tarnished by the #MeToo social movement.  This post cracks open these peculiarly American socio-legal issues.
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The most important plant patent trial of the early 21st century just took place in northern California.  California Berry Cultivars v. The Regents of the University of California sorts out “stakeholder” rights associated with the University system’s vaunted strawberry breeding program.

Two esteemed UC Davis professors left their academic positions and formed California Berry Cultivars (CBC) in order to commercialize their longstanding research accomplishments.  They had spent their careers at the University’s land grant college propagating and discovering new and improved varieties of strawberries.  In a real sense, these professors were the University’s strawberry breeding program.

The jury verdict is in.  Cribbing from an old Rolling Stones song, it left the professors’ reputations in tatters; and their private business interests, shattered.

In the fog of trial, one thing proved certain: a discovery misconduct jury instruction must have had a devastating impact on juror psyches from a neuropsychological standpoint.  In simple terms, this post explains why. 
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Orange blogOranges possess a special cachet in the American dream.  Growing up in the baby-boomer era meant that you heard—“breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine”—thousands of times while watching rerun episodes of Leave it to Beaver and The Flintstones.

As my breakfast chore, I would dutifully mix three cans of tap water with one can of “fresh” frozen concentrated orange juice.  Voilà, we had our morning OJ, just like Anita Bryant’s cheery TV family.  Little did I know that the 3-to-1 formula was patented—to quench a mass-produced taste for sweet orange flavor.

As a youngster, I was also oblivious to the barrage of cognitive priming—in the form of TV ads, radio jingles, point-of-purchase placards, etc.—that would stimulate my desire to eat oranges and drink their juice to this day.  Memory traces of orange flavor are encoded in my brain.

How does the flavor of an orange leave its memories lodged somewhere in the hippocampus[1] region of the brain for later retrieval?  Behind the scenes, intellectual property rights have long shaped—and marketers have long exploited—our innate, neuropsychological demand for foodstuffs.
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blog tomato 1Diana Kennedy, an intrepid chronicler of Mexican cuisine, describes cuatomates as “very small cherry tomatoes with an intense flavor and enormous amount of tiny seeds.”  A potently flavored, tiny green tomatillo variety “grows wild in [Mexican] cornfields.”[1]

Wild, obscure tomatoes—ones you’ve never seen nor tasted—represent the tomato’s intellectual property asset future, in the form

blog photoPoliticians often referred to a 90% consumer preference for food labels signaling the existence of genetically modified ingredients—or GMOs as they are known—during this year’s congressional hearings regarding the now enacted “National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.”

This consumer sentiment appeared irrational to some legislative representatives, believing it defied “hard science” showing that GMO foods are “safe” to eat.  Others commented on how consumer reactions to GMO foods were highly-charged and fraught with “emotions.”

Unfortunately, the rushed legislative GMO labeling debate only skimmed the surface of consumer psychology as it relates to an expressed desire for GMO food labeling.

Discomfort with new foodstuffs resides in our age-old “omnivore’s dilemma,” where what you put in your mouth and swallow can possibly injure or leave you and your family on your death beds in Darwinian fashion.  You are what you eat after all.[1]

Innate emotions—such as disgust, fear, distress, anger and rage—arise from and can be amplified by moral notions of food sanctity and its opposite, food contamination and degradation.  As a classic 1970s Chiffon margarine commercial once proclaimed to crackling lightning and thunder: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”

This post examines GMO food labeling from the developing perspective of “moral foundations” psychology, a topic overlooked in recent hearings.  In doing so, it exposes the fallacy of the “rationalist’s delusion,”—an outmoded, but convenient line of argument that denigrates innate consumer distrust of GMO foodstuffs.
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blog picWhen a food synthesizer first appeared on Star Trek: The Original Series, I looked upon it with awe and wonder. Its workings were never explained; but entire meals would emerge from it magically. Swanson’s frozen TV dinners were its only analogue in my childhood experience—aluminum trays compartmentalized in vaguely Bento box proportions with a daily ration of meat, a starch, some vegetables, and possibly dessert. The food synthesizer did seem to be 23rd century stuff.[1]

In a matter of 50 years, advances in the sustainable food arts are making food duplication a 21st century reality. Deconstruction of foodstuffs is now happening at the particle level in research laboratories around the world. Food replication—through 3D printing devices and like technology—promises to create even more vexing social and legal issues of food identity and authenticity.

The holy grail of this quest is a veggie burger—one with an appealing look, taste and mouth feel that will attract and retain both vegetarian and omnivore consumers. Contorting vegetable matter into tasting, sizzling and bleeding like red meat, however, poses innumerable challenges, with concomitant patenting opportunities.

This article briefly traces the patenting history of this quest and outlines where it is currently headed. Food replication is part of our cultural DNA; the journey itself is exciting.


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blog imageYou’re a sheriff’s deputy and you’re hungry.  You stop at the local Burger King drive-thru and order a Whopper with cheese.  You often eat five meals a day—frequently at fast food restaurants—because you work night shifts.  Yet, this time you drive away with an uneasy feeling.  You stop in another parking lot to examine your hamburger.

As you lift the bun, you notice a “puddle of phlegm” on it.  It looks like oil or fat. You stick your finger in it to see.  It’s neither.  You’ve touched the spittle of a Burger King employee.  He later pleads guilty to felony assault and is sentenced to 90 days in jail.

 You’re nauseated by this traumatic event.  Because of it, you can no longer eat any prepared foods.  Once, when you were served spaghetti at a friend’s home, you vomited right then and there.  Even walking past free samples in grocery stores makes you want to barf.  Unable to eat out, you binge once a day at home on food you prepare yourself.  Your repeated nightmares involve food poisoning or other communicable diseases.

You’re now seeing a mental health professional to overcome these food aversion issues.  You’ve been taught some coping techniques, including how to clear your mind before eating or going to sleep, but progress has been very slow.[1]
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