When it was announced in April that meat scientists had developed a process for mass-producing an entirely new steak – the Vegas Strip steak – the news was met with enthusiasm. Since it’s considered a value cut in the age of skyrocketing beef prices, the industry will take all the help it can get.
But almost immediately the news was met with skepticism over the team’s decision to patent the method of fabricating the steak. It raised questions of whether meat scientists, or anyone for that matter, should be allowed to own that intellectual property.
“I’ve been doing university patent and licensing for about 30 years, and this is the first teak patent I’ve ever applied for,” said Steve Price, associate vice president for technology development at Oklahoma State University, who worked with consultant Tony Mata and meat processing specialist Jacob Nelson in the development of the steak.
He told Meatingplace that the team’s application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) not only addresses the muscle involved but also the different cuts that are made to create the steak. “So the patent application will probably end up being a 10-20-page document,” he said. “It will pend in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for an average of two to three years.”
There are three important criteria in seeking a patent: It has to be novel, it cannot be an obvious extension of what’s already known to the world, and it has to be useful.
“Novelty and whether or not it’s an extension of what the world already knows about will be issues that will be closely examined by the U.S. PTO,” Price said. “If they find literature that covers the methodology that we’ve applied for, they will issue what’s called a rejection, but it’s not a final rejection.” In that case, the PTO allows the applicants an opportunity to appeal. If the application is successful, the PTO will issue a patent.
“With a patent pending no one can get a copy of it, but when something is patented, anyone can buy the patent and try to find another way around it,” said consultant Eugene Gagliardi, Jr., founder and CEO of Creativators, LLC. Gagliardi has obtained nearly three dozen patents on pork, poultry and beef – all of which are now owned by JBS but are not in use.
Although beef ribs and loins increased in value since the early 1990s, those middle meats make up just one quarter of the carcass. Two-thirds of the carcass, meanwhile, is made up of the round, chuck and trimmings – all of which had been dropping in value. So Gagliardi was hired by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) to develop innovative and value-added beef products. All told, the NCBA’s Value Cuts program yielded nearly a dozen products, all of which were patented.
Still, “a patent is only as good [to the degree that] you follow through with it,” said Gagliardi, who in 1986 was issued the first patent on meat cutting in the world. “An idea without fulfillment is still only an idea.”
To Gagliardi’s knowledge, there’s only one meat patent in existence that is making money for its inventor: Patent US7150678, owned by Lobel’s Enterprises, LLC in New York, which describes the method for mass-production of a beef chuck roll.
As to why some inventors don’t follow through with their ideas, Gagliardi, who just filed for yet another chicken-related patent in early May, says he’s baffled. If accepted, this latest patent would bring his total to more than a dozen poultry patents since his first in 1993.
Still, Price and Mata are optimistic.
The biggest challenge is overcoming obviousness issues. “There may also be a novel issue, which is, is the making of this steak already explained in the literature?” Price added. “We don’t anticipate any surprises, but there may be an issued patent out there or an academic article explaining how to do this. … Normally when we have objections from the U.S. PTO they relate to obviousness and novelty issues.”
Editor’s note: To listen to the full interview with Price, visit meatm.ag/vegassteak. Also, look for an in-depth conversation with Mata in Meatingplace magazine. He’ll be profiled as our June Thought Leader.