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AP, IRIN Examine Lawsuit Challenging Plumpy’nut Patent

The Associated Press examines the decision by two U.S. nonprofit groups seeking to increase production of the ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), Plumpy’nut, to file a lawsuit against the French organizations that hold the product’s U.S. patent. According to the AP, rather than pay the royalties or licensing fee that would enable them to produce Plumpy’nut, Breedlove Foods Inc. and the Mama Cares Foundation last month filed a lawsuit challenging what the groups say is a “broad and generic” patent on the product (Mercer, 1/13).

“The patents for Plumpy’nut – a blend of peanuts, sugar, milk powder, oil, vitamins and minerals – are owned by Nutriset, a French family-run business, and the Institute of Research for Development (IRD), a French public research institute,” IRIN reports. “Manufacturers of similar pastes have been reluctant to challenge Nutriset because the patents are so broad, but [Mike] Mellace [head of the Mama Cares Foundation] said he and [David] Fish [head of Breedlove Food Inc.] believed there should be ‘no restrictions on the development and production of life-saving food aid,’” writes IRIN.

“Approximately 200 million children under the age of five in the developing world suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic maternal and childhood undernutrition, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF),” the news service continues, and “RUTFs like Plumpy’nut aimed at small children, have revolutionized the treatment of severe malnutrition.”

The article outlines the companys’ plans for production in the future and notes another case involving challenges to the Plumpy’nut patent. “These challenges have all come about as Nutriset gears up to begin manufacturing Plumpy’nut in the U.S., in partnership with a non-profit entity called Edesia, in February 2010,” IRIN writes, adding that it is a move by Nutriset “to keep U.S. humanitarian agencies supplied” (1/12). 

Nutriset would not comment on the allegations, citing that it had yet to be served the lawsuit, but “company spokesman Remi Vallet said Nutriset believes the patent on its Plumpy’nut paste and the restrictions it imposes on the manufacture of nut-based foods for the malnourished are essential,” the AP writes. “The limits let the company maintain quality while licensing production in the developing world –helping alleviate hunger and create jobs, he said.”

Vallet said that though the company did not want to stand between malnourished children and food products, “the privately held company must turn a profit to finance its research and development.” The article includes comments from both sides of the debate and details health experts’ views on the effectiveness of ready-to-use food products (1/13).