The global nutraceuticals market is expected to cross US$243 Billion in 2015, according to Global Industry Analysts, leading financial analysts of this business.

The boom is fueled by the desire of consumers to lead a healthy life: There is an increasing body of scientific evidence supporting health foods. Furthermore, rising healthcare costs, an aging populace, and growing introduction of supplements claiming to enhance beauty are expected to stimulate growth in the nutraceutical market.

Natural Food additives, plant and botanical extracts, vitamins and co factors are important components of nuetraceuticals. The appeal and practical benefits of natural products are essential to the success of this industry, and there is a never ending desire for innovation and investment in novel natural products or forms of them.

The good news is that natural products can be protected by patents; but patent applicants will have to get creative to overcome any objections on grounds of insufficient human ingenuity in commercializing nature's principles.

In fact, the innovation and creativity required for applying, adapting or reforming a natural product so as to be fit for market is considerable, and companies who take on this task successfully are nowadays considered by the patent authorities as no less deserving of patent protection.

A natural product or nutraceutical is generally extracted from a plant or animal or is an active ingredient (or mixtures of active ingredients) from the plant or animal extracts. While patenting a new chemical entity (NCE) allows the ability to obtain  claims monopoly on the newly synthetized new chemical, natural products generally results in obtaining 'composition’ monopoly claims for natural chemical mixtures extracted from plant or animal origins and which have health, wellness or disease modifying activity.

Our overview of the patent literature and market trends in this field bears this out.  

It is well known that tracking patent filings is the earliest public business intelligence in a technological field, since all companies that rely on their innovations, file patents well before they launch their products into the market. Patent filing trends are known to anticipate future market trends.

We reveal a dramatic increase in the number of filings in nuetraceuticals during the years 2000 to 2010, which then plateaus; correlating with the growing market between the years 2011 to 2015 (see Fig. 1).

 
 

Fig. 1: The growth of 'Nutraceuticals' patent filings and market.

Thus, there is an increasing interest in nutraceuticals, and particularly in natural products derived from plants, during the recent years. Functional foods, and the use of nutraceuticals with active ingredients, mark the convergence of the food and pharmaceutical industries. These products target the high value area of consumer health by trading on their potentially beneficial impact.

The patenting strategies for nutraceuticals are beginning to mirror pharmaceuticals, since natural products manufacturers invest considerable resources in research and development processes, and produce high-value nutraceutical products requiring protection.

Analogous to "evergreening" tactics in drugs, many nutraceutical products are protected by formulation patents in order to extend the lifecycle of the revenue protection and licensability. Innovations associated with food products, for example developing palatable and appealing food products, which will enhance the consumer's diet, are patent protected. The food experience – the taste, texture, food type and package – are important elements for nutraceuticals and are also patent protected. In fact, almost all aspects of nuetraceuticals can be patented, and the patenting strategies are often as sophisticated as those employed in pharmaceutical applications.

Natural products patenting strategies and trends often include characterization of the active principles in the natural plant or animal extract, having both nutraceutical claims and pharmaceutical claims in the same patent, and producing analogs of the active principles isolated from the plant source with the aim of developing new products.

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