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Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center

FAPC assists in protecting inventions and innovations

Obtaining intellectual property rights on a creation or invention in the food and agricultural industry can be a daunting task, but Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center can be a valuable resource.

By Mandy Gross, FAPC Communications Services Manager

(Stillwater, Okla. – June 27, 2017) Obtaining intellectual property rights on a creation or invention in the food and agricultural industry can be a daunting task, but Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center can be a valuable resource.

FAPC has worked on several projects and with multiple food companies, providing research and assistance for protecting intellectual property rights, which can be trademarks, copyrights, patents and such, said Roy Escoubas, FAPC director.

“The food industry has not used the patent process because companies are unaware of the procedure,” he said. “FAPC can be used as model to help assist companies in acquiring intellectual property rights on products, processes, equipment and more.”

Unitherm Food Systems

A recent FAPC project focusing on onion food safety resulted in an awarded process patent for Unitherm Food Systems of Bristow, Oklahoma.

Unitherm Food Systems, a market leader in innovative equipment technologies for pasteurization, cooking and chilling of raw, partially cooked and fully cooked food products and agricultural food commodities, developed a gas-fired flame grill to help reduce bacteria in products. Onions are moved along a conveyer belt and exposed to flames to burn the outer layer where the bacteria would reside. A secondary system with a wet scrub brush is used to remove the ash residue from the onions.

“The motivation to develop the process was a direct result of recalls of contaminated onions in Washington and California [from other companies],” said David Howard, president and chief executive officer of Unitherm Food Systems. “The research has already proven beneficial both domestically and internationally.”

Peter Muriana, FAPC food microbiologist collaborated with Unitherm for microbial validation of the system. The research team looked at yeast, mold and Listeria on red, yellow and white onions and quantified bacteria remaining after going through the system.

“We would never have gotten the patent if it wasn’t for the work with Peter,” Howard said. “Across the food industry, there are opportunities to develop patents. Companies just don’t know how to go about it. FAPC is available to the food industry to help with the patent process.”

Vegas Strip Steak

Another example of a successful patent process was the co-discovery of the Vegas Strip Steak by Jake Nelson, FAPC value-added meat processing specialist, and Tony Mata of Mata & Associates.

The Vegas Strip Steak was unveiled exclusively as the “newest” beef steak at the Protein Innovation Summit in Chicago, Illinois, on April 17, 2012.

With more than 30 years of beef carcass research and development, Mata, the self-proclaimed Meat Geek, approached Nelson and FAPC with the possibility of a new beef carcass cut.

“Given the history of the beef industry, the discovery of a new beef steak that has never before been fabricated and marketed could appear to be an impossibility,” Nelson said. “But FAPC, together with Dr. Mata and Chef Rick Gresh, made this impossibility a reality.”

Vegas Strip Steak comes from the chuck primal of the carcass, and that muscle traditionally has been used for ground beef; however, Nelson and his team felt there had to be more there.

Following the discovery of the muscle capable of producing a steak comparable to the New York Strip, the next step was to protect the beef carcass find.

Nelson reached out to Steven Price, associate vice president for technology development of OSU’s Technology Development Center, to assist in protecting this find.

“Dr. Price and the Technology Development Center provided thorough patent guidance and assisted with the varying aspects of intellectual property,” Nelson said.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office granted a patent to protect the process of extracting the Vegas Strip Steak on April 11, 2017.

Peanut Butter Bites

A product developed by FAPC researchers is a perfect example of the center helping to protect the formulation of an innovation.

Because of the market for healthy and high-protein snacks, FAPC researchers developed a “Peanut Butter Bite” product.

The product idea began when Dani Bellmer, FAPC food processing engineer, and William McGlynn, FAPC horticultural processing specialist, participated in the Oklahoma Proof of Concept Center, a statewide technology business accelerator program managed by Innovation to Enterprise, to investigate the business opportunities for the peanut butter slice technology.

Peanut butter is a mainstay in the American diet with more than a billion dollars in annual sales, and peanuts are an important crop in Oklahoma, Bellmer said.

“A market exists for a more convenient form of peanut butter,” she said. “More specifically, there is an active health-conscious segment of the population that wants a high-protein peanut butter snack that is easy to pack, carry and eat.”

To protect the process of formulating and making the Peanut Butter Bites, FAPC applied for a process patent, which is currently pending.

Valuable Resource

FAPC can be a valuable resource in obtaining intellectual property rights and protecting innovative products, equipment, processes and technologies.

The examples of FAPC providing research and technical assistance have shown the center has the knowledge and experience to help with protecting findings, Escoubas said.

“FAPC offers a variety of services to the food and agricultural industries, and the center’s outreach in helping companies with research and third-party evaluation has led to successful patents,” he said. “We’re here to help.”

FAPC, a part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, is celebrating its 20-year anniversary in 2017. Since its inception in January 1997, the center’s research laboratories, pilot-processing facilities, educational programs and seminars have kept food and agricultural processors and entrepreneurs on the forefront of cutting-edge value-added processing and technology.

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Oklahoma State University is a modern land-grant university that prepares students for success. OSU has more than 36,000 students across its five-campus system and more than 25,000 on its combined Stillwater and Tulsa campuses, with students from all 50 states and around 120 nations. Established in 1890, Oklahoma State has graduated more than 260,000 students who have been serving Oklahoma and the world for 125 years.