Sabinsa has been one of the major developers of curcumin ingredients, which are derived from the spice crop turmeric. The company is vertically integrated in this commodity, having established relationships with farmers in the southern India and extracting the compounds at its own supercritical CO2 facility in the country. In addition to its Indian base of operations, Sabinsa also operates a contract manufacturing facility in Utah and has corporate offices in New Jersey.
Research spurs market activity
Curcuminoids have become an increasingly popular dietary ingredient, bolstered by reams of studies conducted by independent researchers and by companies such as Sabinsa. The ingredient’s potentially powerful antioxidant activity and its apparent ability to influence the inflammatory process via the NfKb pathway has led to a blossoming of research on the ingredient. A search on the PubMed database using ‘curcuminoids’ as a search topic brings up 504 results.
But the popularity of the ingredient has led to a blossoming of sources of supply, too, and not all of them legitimate. A search on the alibaba.com transaction site using ‘curcumin ingredients’ as the search parameter yields 225 results, with advertised prices ranging from $5 to as much as $200 per kilo.
IP in the era of global supply
The most recent Sabina patent case involved NutriBioLink, an American company, and Indian firm Olive Lifesciences Private Ltd. that were selling and distributing products that infringed upon Sabinsa’s Curcumin C3 Complex US Patent 5,861,415 (“the ’415 Patent”), which protects compositions, methods of use, and methods of extraction of a nutritional supplement in the US. In the settlement, which pertains only to NutriBioLink, the company agreed to stop to discontinue any and all future sales of Curcumin to outside distribution. This case is one of several filed on the ingredient in recent years, all of which were significant in that Sabinsa successfully used US patent law to apply to ingredients manufactured in other countries. Christopher Kinkade, an attorney with the firm Fox Rothschild who represented NutriBioLink on the case, confirmed a settlement has taken place but had no further comment on the case.
"We are pleased that once again the courts have reaffirmed that our ‘415 Patent is valid and enforceable,” said Sabinsa founder Dr Muhammed Majeed. “Given how many times we have challenged IP infringing companies and how many times we have prevailed, one would hope companies considering theft of Sabinsa’s intellectual property would ultimately decide to develop their own instead.”
Previously, lawsuits filed against Prakruthi Products Private Limited and HerbaKraft Inc., for Sabinsa’s ‘415 patent, were successfully resolved in Sabinsa’s favor.
When speaking to Nutraingredients-USA at the time of the Prakruthi settlement in March, 2015, Sabinsa marketing director Shaheen Majeed said the company had decided that enough was enough. An assumption was being made in the market that the 415 patent applied only to ingredients whose genesis could be traced entirely to the US, and Majeed said Sabinsa decided to invest into the legal fees to prove that this was not the case. Taken together, these cases sought to unwind the web of global supply and how patents apply to ingredients that have complicated histories. Legal experts had given Sabinsa little hope of prevailing in taking on—under the aegis of US patent law—companies doing business in other countries.
“We were told even by our own lawyers that it would be a hell of a fight to go after foreign suppliers. But we have been looking at this for the last five years. We have been collecting data and gathering a lot of documentation from all of these infringers. We decided it was time to take on these Indian suppliers,” Majeed told us.