The tiny krill crustacean is causing an ocean of controversy at the Food Ingredients Europe tradeshow in Frankfurt. A German bailiff confiscated all printed materials at Aker Biomarine booth at the yesterday at the supply tradeshow in Europe. The exact nature of the injunction was not available at press time, but is believed to be related to the sale of Aker krill products in Germany. The company has not received Novel Food Approval in the EU for its brand of krill.
Sources say that Aker Biomarine booth remained open and ready for business and employees continued to network with trade show attendees despite the lack of literature. The company was allowed to retain advertising, signage and video. According to sources at the tradeshow, Aker Biomarine executives and lawyers spent Thursday morning in court fighting the injunction.
The action is not the first of its kind especially in Germany. The country is known for monitoring intellectual property at tradeshows, according to Managing Intellectual Property online magazine.
The krill dispute began earlier this week when Neptune Technologies and Bioressources filed a patent infringement lawsuit in a US District Court in Massachusetts against Aker and its distributor Jedwards International. The patent infringement claim was for U.S. Patent No. 6,800,299. Spokespersons from Neptune were not available for comment as of press time.
In response, Aker Biomarine said they analyze patent space and Superba™ production to avoid patented processing. "We regard this as a frivolous lawsuit," said Hallvard Muri, CEO of Aker BioMarine. "But it was not entirely unexpected since we are aware that Neptune has repeatedly threatened several of our current and potential future customers with patent infringement lawsuits should they consider switching to Superba™. Our customers can rest assured that we welcome the opportunity to face Neptune in court over this patent and that we will support our customers should they be attacked by Neptune now or in the future."
In October, Neptune received Novel Food Approval for Neptune Krill Oil (NKOÂ®) for the European Union. The approval allows official commercialization of NKO in all member states of the EU. The first NKO product launched in Europe will be a dietary supplement, most likely introduced in the UK. The first functional food launch will be a weight management protein bar, in both Europe and the US, where NKO has Generally Recognised as Safe status.
Spokespersons for Neptune and Aker were not available for comment at press time. Industry experts cite growing competition within the krill market as the precipitous behind the various legal actions. Neptune was first to market in 2002. The company recently scaled up production at its Sherbrooke Quebec Facility which will offer a 50% increase of yearly output from 60,000 kilograms to at least 90,000 kilograms. In recent years, competitor companies recognized the opportunity in the growing krill market. In October 2007 Enzymotec entered the market, followed a month later by Aker in November.
Since Neptune's inception, the company has invested heavily in patented technology and clinical scientific research to boost the credibility of krill. To date all three human clinical trials on krill were fostered by Neptune's investments in time and money to validate krill as a functional food, hence the EU Novel Foods Approval. The research is applies only to Neptune's form and function of its NKO product, though similar health claims by other krill companies are commonly used for marketing, hence the legal wrangling.
Though the market is getting more crowded each company offers a unique vantage point. For Neptune it is research. Aker's market strength is from the company's ties to the fishing industry and owning its own fleet of boats and therefore its ability to offer 100% traceability and vertically integrate in the market. Their research to date is limited to studies animal studies. In Sept. 2009, a study using mice as subjects was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry citing cholesterol reduction properties for Aker's Superba form of krill and a study released in August 2009 showed that Superba surpassed fish oil for cardiovascular and liver fat reduction published in the Journal of Nutrition.