The French company confirmed that it would defend itself against the action.
“Roquette regards protection of intellectual property as an essential means to secure its long-term innovation ability,” said the French company.
Maltitol is a polyol used as a sugar substitute. It contains approximately half the calories of sugar and is less prone to causing tooth decay.
The firm has been producing its maltitol product, which it markets as Maltisorb, for 20 years. It has held the patent in the UK since 2002 (European patent EP 0 905 138), the term of which is due to expire in 2018.
Its patent protects specific forms of maltitol crystals such as bipyramidal maltitol forms, which are designed to provide optimum performance in the production of no-added-sugars chocolate (low viscosity with minimal fat absorption) and chewing gum (flexible texture).
Roquette told FoodNavigator.com that Tate & Lyle is basing its claim on the grounds that Maltisorb is not a new and original product and thus its patent is invalid. Tate & Lyle no longer manufactures maltitol products, having sold its European starch-processing subsidiary to French firm Syral in August 2007.
Tate & Lyle declined to comment on the case.
Roquette has had to defend its product once this year already. In January it won a patent infringement case to prevent Yucheng Lujian Biological Co., Ltd. from importing or selling maltitol crystals in the USA under its local patent.
Since it began producing its crystalline maltitol, Roquette has filed more than 20 patents to protect its intellectual property relating to Maltisorb or to enlarge its range of applications.
Sugar-free and reduced sugar products are gaining in popularity throughout the world. In the chewing gum market alone, the penetration of sugar-free products has reached 80 per cent in many European countries. With large parts of Europe and the USA in the grip of an obesity epidemic, research suggests that sales of sugar-free alternatives will continue to increase.
Maltitol is benefiting from this rise in popularity. According to figures from market analysts Mintel, 872 new food products containing maltitol were launched worldwide last year, compared with 680 in 2006, an increase of 30 per cent. In Europe this figure rose by 20 per cent from 257 to 310.