Patents Being Used To Keep Starving Children From Getting Therapeutic Food Paste

from the promoting-the-progress-of-malnutrition dept

We’ve seen way too many stories of patents being used to hold back medical treatments or drugs in communities that need them most, and now a few of you have sent in this troubling story of how a French company, Nutriset, has been using patents to block competition with its therapeutic food paste for malnourished children. Apparently, the company came up with “a mixture of peanut butter, powdered milk, sugar and vegetable oil fortified with 40 vitamins and minerals,” called it Plumpy’nut, patented it, and started offering it to various aid agencies. Apparently, it works great, but anyone else who creates anything remotely similar comes under attack from Nutriset’s lawyers, who apparently like saving children only when there’s no competition from anyone who might do it more cheaply or more efficiently.

The article highlights a lawsuit that has been filed by some US organizations, looking to make and distribute a competitor called Re:vive, trying to invalidate the Nutriset patent. This isn’t a small issue either — millions of children are starving, and a recent study by UNICEF found that relying on a single supplier, like Nutriset, would not be enough to match the need, and could be a very unreliable way to help save malnourished children. It’s amazing that patents are being used to prevent the more efficient and economic delivery of food to malnourished children, but that’s what you get when you build up a world mentality that believes concepts like this can be “owned” and controlled by a single party.

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Companies: nutriset

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Comments on “Patents Being Used To Keep Starving Children From Getting Therapeutic Food Paste”

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Overcast (profile) says:

Re: damn right i need my 70 years plus life of inventor money

be greedy we can just let them all starve then the problem is solved.

YES be a fascist today

That would be ‘Eugenics’ – I’m sure with a smattering of Fascism, as they seem to go hand-in-hand.

I think the official corporate stance would be: “As long at the quarterly balance sheets are in order, starving people don’t matter.”

Of course, eventually, you’ll starve most of your consumers. In order for profits to perpetually rise you need a perpetually growing customer base.

But business thinks too short-term from that, and the contrary to all the moaning and groaning about ‘today’s economy’ – I think we are feeling the effects of outsourcing now.

another mike (profile) says:

Re: Frakin' A

Um, prior art? I’ve got some if anyone wants it. According to Wikipedia, Mercury and Gemini crews were forced to endure freeze-dried powders and goop from a tube. Even in 1975, the Russians were serving borscht in a tube. It wasn’t until Skylab that astronauts started getting TV dinner tray style dining.
Tubes of energy-rich paste have been common amongst campers and the outdoor set for years due to their low weight, high energy density, and easy clean-up.

Anonymous Coward says:


Why don’t they just produce the competing product in the USA. In the US recipes are not Patentable or Copyright-able.

Which is why companies like Coca Cola attempt to keep their formula a secret.

Which is also why you can find dozens of sites on the internet that have recipes that actually state which chef’s cookbook they were taken from and no one gets sued.

Richard Corsale (profile) says:

Re: Confused

why wouldn’t they be patentable?? I mean you’re using a machine to transform something through a process. Thats to the letter what a process patent is. The recipe exclusion was carved out when common sense played a roll in patent eligibility. That was long ago and we now let patents fly without any realistic presumption of validity. I can’t for the life of me understand why you could patent something like a vague concept (like how you setup your web site) and not an actual formula. I mean drugs are patentable .. why the hell not recopies? They pass all of the tests of transformation and usefulness. Supplements and powders really blur the line.. The implosion is eminent, at this point we should just push for more radical patent protections so we can get public opinion involved and then we just wait for the grandstanding to begin.

Brooks (profile) says:

Why just fortified food?

The article doesn’t get at the specific claims in the patent, but if it truly is a recipe patent (as opposed to a patent on a manufacturing process used to make the product), it seems utterly ridiculous.

Even if the patent *is* on a manufacturing process, this sure doesn’t help the system’s image. Or the lawyers’, for that matter. Can you imagine being at a cocktail party with a Nutriset lawyer? “Yeah, I’m working on a patent case, some American company is trying to use my company’s patented process to feed starving children. I’m pretty sure we’ll win.”

Brooks (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s an interesting tradeoff. What cost/availability/nutrient tradeoffs are worthwhile?

If you feed 100,000 children for a year but kill 10 due to allergies, is it better or worse than feeding, say, 75,000 for a year but not killing any?

I mean, if it was a no-cost swap that produced the same health benefits, sure. But I’m skeptical that’s the case.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I highly doubt much of this Plumpy’nut gets delivered to the US which is the only country that seems to have any significant number of peanut allergies. And I’m willing to bet that malnourished children don’t develop these allergies that seem to affect only fat, lazy American kids. (Not that all Americans are fat and lazy. Some are fat, and some are lazy…)

But seriously something about our industrialized culture, whether it’s processed foods, or BPAs, or whatever has made kids in the US especially susceptible to these allergies that 20 years ago were very rare. Ask a starving kid, even in the US, if he has any food allergies, and they’ll look at you like you’re nuts (yes, pun intended).

I also love that Mike had to create a file for “Plumpy’nut.”

vastrightwing (profile) says:

My patent

I’m going to patent the process of planting seeds, waiting for plants to grow, then put the plants through a high temperature process to soften the plant material, mixing the material with other organic material and inorganic material to derive a human consumable product. Then sealing the product into an air tight container so that it can be transported and distributed. Of course, I’ll only charge a small fee to license the patent to anyone who wants to use this novel process.

Anonymous Coward says:

Design a non-infringing version, or pay Nutriset a royalty. Nutriset came up with something, and the others want to copy it instead of coming up with their own version. I took a look at the patent, there are some obvious design around solutions there, get to work, design around the patent, and get the product out. A manufacturer not willing to do this little bit is itself a part of the problem. And its not like agencies can’t purchase the Nutriset product.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Property rights being used to keep starving children from getting my bread

newsflash: property rights being used to keep starving children from getting my bread. Whats the big deal?

Logicflash: property rights don’t stop starving children from getting bread handed to them by someone else. Patents are doing that.

If starving children take your bread, you’ve lost it. Again, that’s not what’s happening here.

Death Always Profitable -KBR says:

Under the tear down the bureaucracy file

Now, the main ingredients of this paste seems to be peanut butter, powdered milk and vitamin supplements. How can you patent that?

You can’t… but the patent office lets them anyway. Really this is because apparently in France you can. So the US will up hold there law by treaty.

So remember… You may not be able to patent it here. …Or there …but you can somewhere. All you need is the money to enforce it.

P.S. If there is a special process by which you get all these ingredients to combined. Then that is patent worthy.
Though I highly doubt that is what is going on here.

Death Always Profitable -KBR (user link) says:


Reading the patent, albeit I’m skimming. I can’t see where this is not an “obvious” product. The main contentions seem to be on controlling the water content and lipids.
Basically saying that the product should not dissolve easily in water but it should in stomach acids. Probably with a low PH as they are malnourished.

If you could point out the section that should keep others from doing the same. Just by a different name that would be great.

Kinda like making something Pop-tart like and calling them toaster pastries.

You know Gandhi wrote about combating malnutrition. With nut butter/s and milk or its derivatives. This might constitute “prior-art” and negate the whole patent.

Link to the patent:

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m submitting a patent for Chicken-a-la-king. Watch out Stouffers, I’m coming after you.

This is absurd. How can you patent a food recipe? Someone comes up with the idea for peanut butter and banana sandwiches (Elvis?) and now no one else can make one without permission? Since when is mixing two or more food ingredients into a single dish worthy of a monopoly?

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes, let’s take away this so-called “monopoly” from the patentee and spread the product around to a host of other companies so that all of them collectively can make money from feeding malnourished people. Of course this must be done since almost certainly no other suitable and similarly efficacious substitutes are to be found anywhere else on earth.

Ronald J Riley (profile) says:

No one is stopping people from getting food

More drivel Mike, no one is stopping people from getting food. All they are stopping is a specific formulation method.

There is a difference between seeking donations of one sort of another for causes and demanding a donation. This is something which United Way was prone to do and while I make significant donations to other causes I will never give United way a dime because of their strong arm fund raising tactics.

When nonprofits or their agents attack inventors they are ensuring that those inventors will NEVER contribute to those entities. That also applies to the Open Ripoff Source movement.

Look at the Petr Taborsky case and the University of South Florida. They ripped off Taborsky and since that time they have been mostly shunned by inventors of means. I believe that it has cost them many millions of dollars.

Ronald J. Riley,

I am speaking only on my own behalf.
President – – RJR at
Executive Director – – RJR at
Senior Fellow –
President – Alliance for American Innovation
Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
Washington, DC
Direct (810) 597-0194 / (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 8 pm EST.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: No one is stopping people from getting food

Have you researched this topic, or is your response just bloated hot air (like your signature)?

I did.

They are not protecting a patent on a particular formula. They have tried to make a broad patent that basically prevents any similar formula for being distributed.

Now I can agree that it is not bad that they are greedy, but in their efforts, they are blocking organizations from helping starving children – with full knowledge that they cannot possibly produce enough of their paste to meet the demand anyway.

This seems like a great reason to revisit IP law and add something that at least prevents it from interfering with getting food to starving children.

JustMe (profile) says:


I donated to the Plumpy’nut thing a year or two ago. I won’t do it again. Anyone have a linky to the patent?

Also, Mr. Ronald J. Riley, WTF is this on your piausa page?

____________”evil doers are still plotting”____________

Outside of old Batman reruns (the TV show, not the movies) who talks like that? Take a chillpill and get over yourself. Sheesh.

Ronald J Riley (profile) says:

Re: Plumpy'nut

Don’t worry, I will suggest to inventors of means that they donate to Plumpy’nut.

There is no reason that those who want to cannot get food to starving children. What is likely is that the organizations making this claim are doing so on behalf of some commercial interest who wants to use this invention for their own profit.

Actually, on that note TechDIRT’s connection to members of the Piracy Coalition is telling.

Ronald J. Riley,

I am speaking only on my own behalf.
President – – RJR at
Executive Director – – RJR at
Senior Fellow –
President – Alliance for American Innovation
Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
Washington, DC
Direct (810) 597-0194 / (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 8 pm EST.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Plumpy'nut

I know that Mama Cares is a non-profit arm of Mellace Family Brands, but I wonder where Mama Cares gets the food they provide? I wonder how altruistic they really are?

I also notice that not once is there an example of a single child who has starved or been malnourished because of the patent. Indeed, the various articles regarding this story only say that “if” demand continues to grow, then Nutriset will eventually be unable to keep up demand, even though Nutriset has been working with third world countries to develop production of their product locally at low cost. Then there was another comment about how having only one supplier was not wise. Except, with the development of third-world suppliers, there is not really “one supplier.”

I can also see where companies like Mellace Foods might be upset because Nutriset is able to get local, low cost suppliers in place faster than Mellace Foods is able to ramp up production, meaning their profits will be less then they expect. That would be a bummer.

Headline: Hype Turns Patent Mole Hill into Mountain

staff says:

Figure it out

“We’ve seen way too many stories of patents being used to hold back medical treatments or drugs in communities that need them most…”

Is the patent system, or for that matter our system of private enterprise perfect? Of course not. Still, without it there would be no such medications as no firm in its right mind would invest risky capital in developing medicines that may or may not work only to have competitors in low wage countries copy them and undercut their markets. Figure it out for heaven’s sake!

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Figure it out

Is the patent system, or for that matter our system of private enterprise perfect? Of course not. Still, without it there would be no such medications as no firm in its right mind would invest risky capital in developing medicines that may or may not work only to have competitors in low wage countries copy them and undercut their markets. Figure it out for heaven’s sake!

Hmm. Salk Vaccine? Not patented. Penicillin? Invented without patents, and market was driven by the gov’t, not patents. Most of the biggest drug breakthroughs in the last 50 years? Done at universities, funded by gov’t money.

I think you’d have a hard time supporting the claim that medicines need patents to get developed.

JustMe (profile) says:

It isn't the invention

It appears to be that the patent, as issued, is too broad and the Plumpy lawyers are screwing over people who wish to make food paste (which certainly wasn’t invented by Plumpy).

Example, you can’t sell ‘two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun’ unless you own a McD’s franchise, but you can certainly sell a burger with two patties made only with beef, ketchup and mayo mixed together, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a bun sprinkled with sesame seeds.

So IMHO IANAL if someone were to try and market a formula with 40% peanut paste and vitamins and minerals and milk powder (or whatever they use) then yes, that would be wrong. However, there is nothing to say that you can’t market a peanut-based supplement for hungry children.

Remi Vallet (user link) says:

The big picture

To better understand the big picture, please take time to read the full comments Nutriset wrote to journalists at
You’ll see that Nutriset actually uses its patent to foster local production of Plumpy’nut in developing countries, mostly through members of the PlumpyField network, but also by granting simple licenses to non-franchised manufacturers.
You’ll also discover that Nutriset partnered with a US foundation to launch Edesia, a non-for profit manufacturer of Plumpy’nut based in Providence, RI, that will also support R&D and the establishment or expansion of producers in developing countries.

Please follow us on @plumpyfield for further Plumpy’nut & RUTF news.

Rémi Vallet (user link) says:

Re: Ok, Msr. Vallet

thanks for taking time to read our note.
Actually, we didn’t sue the companies, they filed a complaint. And we learnt it through articles, to this day we have not been officially notified.
As for the patent, you can find it on the US Patent Office online database at, using Nutriset and Plumpy’nut keywords.
PS: by the way, it’s Mr. Vallet!

Anonymous Coward says:


Patents are most emphatically NOT keeping any starving children from getting therapeutic paste.

Nutriset has been working with a number of producers in third world countries to get them to produce the therapeutic paste, and they have made the licensing terms very reasonable. They have also ENCOURAGED producers in countries where they have no patents to produce the therapeutic paste. There is also no evidence that they have ever sued anyone over infringement of their patents. The primary buyer of the therapeutic paste has been government and private agencies whose primary goal is to prevent malnutrition and starvation.

To say that Nutriset is somehow using their patents to prevent starving children from getting their therapeutic paste is worse than a distortion, it is an outright lie.

It might be no coincidence that the lie seems to center around a couple of for-profit companies who are trying to get into the same game. I wonder if either of those companies tried to talk with Nutriset about a license, or whether their greed and sense of entitlement just spurs them to spread lies and rumors about a company that has helped tens of thousands of starving children?

Rémi Vallet (user link) says:

Re: Twitter Spam from Plumpy

I really don’t think providing people circulating this misleading article with a global perspective has anything to do with spamming. But it’s true many people forwarded this article, so I sent a lot of replies from Nutriset’s official Twitter account, @plumpyfield.
Rémi Vallet (Nutriset’s Communications Manager)

PS: you should take time to read comments 49 and 51, that give a very different view of this story. Many thanks to them for this.

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