In a major development that could be a road map for all the other internecine ingredient wars going on between competitors—in everything from curcumin and vitamin K2 to coQ10 and more—rival carotenoid competitors Kemin and OmniActive declared a truce and have both withdrawn all legal complaints against each other and will form a trade organization to boost the fortunes of the larger ingredient category around lutein and zeaxanthin.
These rival legal battles among ingredient suppliers seem to never get old. And that’s too bad. When companies take their eyes off the prize of building a bigger category by fighting among themselves over which ingredient form is better, it’s almost always a loss of time, resources—and opportunity. Supplements manufacturers and finished product brand holders often look dimly on such shenanigans and look to source other ingredient classes entirely that can help a health benefit area in which they see opportunity.
“With this agreement, Kemin and OmniActive agree to cross license our current and future ‘use patents’ on lutein, zeaxanthin and their isomers, worldwide and royalty free,” said Sanjaya Mariwala, managing director & CEO of OmniActive Health Technologies. “This agreement removes patent road blocks, unleashes Kemin’s and OmniActive’s innovation for our customers worldwide, and helps elevate the global usage of carotenoids.”
That lutein pioneer Kemin Human Nutrition & Health and Indian upstart with a savvy marketing angle OmniActive Health Technologies laid down the gauntlet is astonishing indeed. In only October, the two were in the midst of suing each other in patent courts, federal courts and with the Federal Trade Commission.
This agreement is intended to increase the marketing claims available to both parties’ customers, to the extent those claims are covered by OmniActive’s or Kemin’s method of use patents—current and future. Both parties believe the global cross license will help their supplements manufacturing customers stay focused on developing and growing the market place.
“You could say it’s a kumbaya moment,” said Stacy Dill, worldwide marketing director at Kemin. “We hope we inspire other raw material suppliers for best practices for working with clients as well.”
The crux of the argument was over blue light—the harmful light that gets emitted from electronic screens as well as LED light bulbs. Blue light causes not just eye fatigue in the near-term, but also age-related macular degeneration long-term—the leading cause of blindness in those over age 60 (a decade ago it was over age 65). It’s arguably the single greatest supplement opportunity of the post-modern age. OmniActive Marketing Director Lynda Doyle asserts that lutein and zeaxanthin “will be the next omega-3.”
“When manufacturers look at blue light, the opportunity there is quite endless,” said Dill, “from your standard Millennial demographic, which extends into gamers—it helps protect your eyes from blue light but it also increases your visual performance and could potentially help you with reaction time—and extends to your busy business professionals who can actually feel eye strain. Children as young as three years old start playing on tablets.”
Collaboration, not litigation, is always less expensive. And by working together, ingredient competitors can signal to downstream manufacturers and marketers that everyone is pulling in the same direction of providing more health for more people.
“A key learning,” said Dill, “is that litigation gave us the opportunity to come together and have a discussion with each other. Both parties agreed that we’re in it for human health, to grow the pie. We want everybody to understand the importance of supplementation with carotenoids. How can we further grow the market and educate?”
Also notable is that, in another 2016 development, krill competitors Aker BioMarine and Neptune Wellness Solutions similarly reached an accommodation with each other, with leaders at both companies saying that now is the time for innovation, not litigation. Could it be that competitors coming together to build the category is a more savvy strategic business direction than having high-dollar lawyers hash out marginal market share for an individual company?
“Litigation brought us together to find common ground. We see great value in eliminating lutein and zeaxanthin deficiencies in the human population to optimize human health through nutritional guidance,” said Dr. Chris Nelson, president and CEO of Kemin Industries Inc. “To do this Kemin and OmniActive jointly commit to advancing the science supporting the human health benefits of carotenoids.”
This specifically does not include the respective companies’ unique products, compositions and process patents. OmniActive’s Lutemax 2020’s unique composition including lutein, RR-Zeaxanthin and RS-(meso)-Zeaxanthin is not licensed to Kemin as a part of this settlement. Kemin’s ZeaONE patent for RR zeaxanthin from marigold is not licensed to OmniActive as a part of this settlement.
The lutein and zeaxanthin trade organization will start with charter members Kemin and OmniActive, but will grow to include many stakeholders, from researchers to educators and supplement innovators.
There’s all sorts of interesting positioning that a manufacturer and marketer can go with when formulating with lutein and zeaxanthin. While blue light is the most tantalizing, OmniActive has conducted 12 human clinical trials in healthy populations over the past 18 months, said Doyle, in health areas extending beyond visual performance to include cognitive, stress, mood and skin health.
“There’s a lot going on out there,” said Doyle, “A lot to innovate. That’s really important in the future. The public health benefit is where we’re focusing on, marrying science with consumer desires.”
Dill of course agrees. “That’s who wins here, our customers the manufacturers. As will consumers because now they’ll have even more opportunities to take advantage of great formulations.”
So while OmniActive and Kemin will continue their independent research, innovation and market development for their respective product portfolio, and continue to compete in the marketplace, the two companies will be working together to support the growth of the overall macular carotenoid market. It’s easy to see how such collaboration will remove roadblocks and only help enhance the viability of the supplements vision-health market.