The firm holds 70 patents worldwide for the production of Acesulfame K (AcK), which is marketed under the Sunett sweetener brand name, and is confident of remaining the market leader in this market for years to come.
The product, which is roughly 200 times sweeter than sugar, has enjoyed volume gains in the buoyant sweetener market of late. The company claims that the ingredient is now used in over 4,000 food and beverage products worldwide.
Acesulfame potassium, known as the additive E950, gained approval in the EU in 1983; the additive has been cleared in about 90 countries worldwide, including the US, since 1988.
The patents protecting the processing of the product are still valid in Canada and Spain, the key intermediates of the AcK production process. The method to produce these key intermediates is still protected in the US, Canada and Spain.
"We have an extensive patent portfolio covering our unique production process and various AcK applications and we will continue to enforce our patent rights," said Eckart von Haefen, president of Nutrinova.
"Earlier legal successes confirm our strategy."
However, the expiration of an important patent in March 2005 for the production of Acesulfame K in some countries underlines the fact that patents eventually run out. For example, the process patent in Canada will be valid only until September 2007 for products sold or manufactured in Canada.
Nutrinova nonetheless insists that patents for a process improvement step will remain in force in the US until 2015, and in other countries until 2013. There may also be further patent developments in the future.
It should come as little surprise that the company should be so eager to protect its patents. The competitive sweetener industry is enjoying considerable growth above the industry average as consumers with growing health and weight concerns turn away from sugar-heavy foods and beverages to 'lite' versions.
According to market analysts Freedonia, the sweetener market is set to grow at around 8.3 per cent year on year until 2008: considerably higher than growth in the ingredients industry currently at about 3 to 4 per cent. Soft drinks are driving demand, pushing supplies for competitive sweeteners aspartame and Splenda, as well as Acesulfame K.
Nutrinova is a leading international supplier of specialty ingredients for the food and beverage industries. It is one of the world's largest producers of potassium sorbate and sorbic acid and is also active in the market for dietary fibres and omega-3 fatty acids.