By Blake Brittain
(Reuters) – Motif Foodworks told a Delaware federal court that plant-based meat rival Impossible Foods improperly hired private investigators who donned fake identities to solicit information about Motif’s products during their patent dispute.
In documents unsealed on Tuesday, Motif said investigators who falsely claimed to represent potential partners started approaching them to obtain samples and other information about its meat substitute shortly after Impossible Foods filed a lawsuit accusing Motif of patent infringement.
Motif said in one of the filings that Impossible’s use of “false pretenses” to gain information was “alarming” and “unethical.”
A Motif spokesperson said on Thursday that the filings “speak for themselves.” The company has denied Impossible’s infringement claims.
Representatives for Impossible did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. The company told the court that Motif’s filings included “exaggerated rhetoric” and were “nothing more than an attempt by Motif to distract from its blatant patent infringement.”
“It is common, and ethical, for patent owners to obtain and evaluate infringing products — such as Motif’s — in the marketplace,” Impossible said.
Redwood City, California-based Impossible sued Motif, a Boston-based spinoff of biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks, last year. The lawsuit said the “Hemami” ingredient in Motif’s burgers infringes Impossible patents related to a “beef replica” product that also uses a heme protein.
A Delaware judge denied Motif’s motion to dismiss most of the claims last year.
Motif employees told the court that they were approached by people claiming to work for a fast-food supplier and meal-kit service interested in its product.
A Motif employee said in a filing that a women claiming to represent the meal-kit service, Sarah Jamil, appeared with the name “Sarah Nasir” on a video call before changing her name during it. The employee said she later found a Sarah Nasir on LinkedIn who is the managing partner of a private investigation firm called Integrity One Solutions.
The Motif employee also said the website for the supposed meal-kit company, Food4Thought, was “very rudimentary” and did not identify the people who claimed to represent it.
Integrity One and Food4Thought did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the allegations.
Another Motif employee said she was approached at a trade show in San Francisco by a man named Lindon Lilly who claimed to source plant-based food for an undisclosed fast-food chain. The employee said she later found Lilly’s LinkedIn profile named him as the president of “California Active Shooter Academy LLC” and did not disclose any link to food industries.
A San Francisco-based company called Rhino Investigation founded by a man named Lindon Lilly did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations.
Motif asked the court to order Impossible to reveal additional communications and requested a protective order for its own information.
The case is Impossible Foods Inc v. Motif Foodworks Inc, U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, No. 1:22-cv-00311.
For Impossible: Matthew Reed, Wendy Devine and Lori Westin of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
For Motif: Joseph Paunovich, Sandra Haberny, Ryan Landes and Stephen Wood of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan
(Reporting by Blake Brittain in Washington)