Leaders and Trends in Intellectual Property: Probiotics

By: Andreas Baltatzis and Gideon B. Eckhouse  |   March 21, 2017

Successful health and nutrition companies are built on innovative products and great brands. The strongest foundation for new products and brands is intellectual property, specifically patents and trademarks. Patents protect inventions and trademarks protect brands. Below, we discuss trends in intellectual property and highlight companies who are leading the creation of new products and brands in probiotics.

Every day seems to bring exciting research about the important role of probiotics in human health. Consumers are seeking probiotics not only for digestive health, but also for improved immunity, women’s health, brain function, oral health, and better skin. Consumers are also looking for ingredients they trust and are willing to pay a premium price for branded ingredients.  A number of natural product companies have capitalized on the need for innovative products that consumers can trust by protecting these products with intellectual property.

Patent Filing Trends: Rapid Growth

Innovation in probiotics has dramatically increased over the past 20 years. As new connections are made between probiotics and their importance in health and well-being, the rate of applications filed continues to increase, and has now reached over 10,000 patent applications throughout the world. The increasing rate of filing shows that there are many inventions that continue to be discovered. The graph does not include all of the applications filed in 2015, which may take up to 18 months to be published.

The Leaders: Patent Applications

Given the large number and wide range of applications for probiotics, including supplements, food and beverage products, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and cosmetics, there are a wide variety of companies represented as leaders of application assignments. Moreover, a number of companies have established large portfolios indicating a dedication to research and development of new innovations. 


 

Global filing trends: Probiotics Worldwide

While the most applications have been filed in the leading patent offices of the U.S., EPO and China, there is a great deal of interest throughout the world in probiotic innovation. The most applications have been published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). WIPO administers the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system. The PCT system allows for a single patent application to be filed that applies to countries throughout the world. In contrast, an applicant who files in their own country first must generally file globally (including a PCT) within one year of the earliest application.


  

New Brands: Trademark Applications in Probiotics

Trademarks provide protection of brand names and logos for companies and individuals who sell a product. Every trademark application and registration must list the goods and services with which the mark is used. This ensures that the scope of the trademark rights is limited to the products and services with which the brand is actually marketed.

In order to determine the growth of probiotic-related trademarks, we examined trademark applications and registrations with the term “probiotic” in the listing of goods and services associated with the mark. We also limited our search to trademarks related to nutritional supplements. We found that since 2011 there have been nearly 600 such registrations. Before 2011 there were fewer than 300 registrations that fit these parameters. With regard to applications, 1469 were filed since 2011 that include “probiotics” in the listing of goods. Only 594 applications were filed before 2011 that include the term “probiotics” in the listing of goods.


 

We also investigated the occurrence of some common terms and provide our results below. Very few terms occur with any significant frequency. This might suggest that probiotic product manufacturers are very creative in branding their products. While it might be beneficial to include in a product name the common terms for their ingredients (e.g., acidophilus or lactobacillus), such names are generally not available for trademark protection.


 

There is an ongoing need for innovation and brand protection in probiotics. Leading companies in probiotics continue to build value in their innovations and brands by protecting their intellectual property through patent and trademark applications. Make sure that you consider these options for building barriers to competition and increasing the value of your brands and new products. A good intellectual property attorney can advise you on whether or not pursing a patent or registered trademark is a good investment for your business and exactly where to start.