War of words erupts over IP cited in new vitamin K2 launch

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - soleskin
©Getty Images - soleskin

Related tags Vitamin k2 IP IP protection

The launch of a new vitamin K2 has inflamed a war of words over IP ownership, with each side claiming the high ground in the debate.

Branded ingredient supplier PLT Health Solutions recently announced it will be marketing a new K2 ingredient branded as menatto Vitamin K2 manufactured by Japanese firm J-Oil Mills.  The press release announcing the news called the ingredient “the world’s most researched vitamin K2.”

The release goes on further to cite 10 studies done on the ingredient that elucidate its effects on bone health, cardiovascular health and other end points.

“Menatto is the world’s premier source of Vitamin K2 – from the sustainable, clean-label manner in which it is produced, to the unparalleled clinical support package that allows us to explain its benefits and build trust with consumers. We’re excited to be working with J-Oil Mills to help bring this ingredient to our broad customer base in the North American market,”​ said Sid Hulse, PLT’s vice president of product development.

PLT said it will be offering both oil and powdered forms of the ingredient.

Research calls out MenaQ7

However, competitor Nattopharma, now part of Gnosis by Lesaffre, has reacted strongly to the PLT claims for menatto.  The company said looking back at the research will reveal that Nattopharma conceived the research plan, funded the studies and shepherded them through publication.  All of the studies use Nattopharma’s brand name—MenaQ7—when referring to the ingredient.

Nattopharma had contracted with J-Oil Mills to manufacture the first versions of MenaQ7 that were used in the studies.  That’s not in dispute. But to use that research to support a new ingredient marketed under a different brand name goes beyond the pale, in the view of the Gnosis leadership.

“Who designed the studies?  Who is developing the research around vitamin K2?  You can look at the publications and it’s all about MenaQ7,”​ said Marc Philouze, managing director at Gnosis by Lesaffre.

PLT exec:  Science is about products, not brands

Hulse countered that the research pertains to an ‘item of commerce,’ and maintains that the current J-Oil Mills fermented vitamin K2 product matches the specifications of what was used in the original studies.  Hence, a customer or an end user can be confident that the research PLT cites backs the effects of the new ingredient.

“We are not trying to steal anything from anybody,” ​Hulse continued.  “Clinical science is done on a product, not a brand.  From a science point of view the results are irrespective of who paid for the research.  It’s the same product. The results of the science support the efficacy of the product.”

“There is no equivocation. The science applies to the products,” ​he said.

J-Oil Mills, for its part, said PLT's long involvement in the K2 market was one of the selling points of the new partnership.

"PLT Health Solutions has been in the Vitamin K2 business for almost twenty years and was one of the companies that played a key role in building the North American market. Their commitment to scientifically-supported ingredient solutions aligns well with our philosophy at J-Oil Mills,”​ said Hikaru Asari of J-Oil Mills.

Gnosis retort: Manufacture of material only one part of puzzle

Philouze countered that the precise K2 ingredient is only one part of the puzzle.  That has to be put into a delivery mode to be studied, which could have implications of its own.  And Philouze said the situation could create an unfortunate precedent for the industry.

“If people start using the science of others it is a slippery slope for the industry.  To be only one part of the puzzle and then come in 10 years later and try to claim to whole goes too far, I think,” he said.

Philouze added that part of the brand equity that Nattopharma has built up over the years is to deliver a consistent product that matches what was researched, even though it now is made in a different facility.

“The responsibility of the company has been to deliver that material consistently over 15 years.  That’s what we think is the value of the MenaQ7 brand:  validation, quality and purity,” ​he said.

Attorney:  Contracts can avoid such headaches

Attorney Justin Prochnow, a shareholder in the firm Greenberg Traurig, said it’s not the first time such a dispute has come up and it surely won’t be the last.  The key to the trouble free development of a research plan, like any other business partnership, lies in the details of the contract language, he said.

“Typically you would have an agreement that would set out who is going to own the IP.  Ideally you would spell that out in any sort of service agreement,” ​he said.

“The agreement should specify that any studies done and research created is the property of the people who own the IP.  The days of transacting business without a written agreement in place should be over,” ​Prochnow concluded.

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