06 September 2010

Patently French ~ "We Invented Peanut Butter"

Andrew Rice's NYTimes piece The Peanut Solution reminds us of the potent idea of Plumpy’nut...
"Sound it out, and you get the idea: it’s an edible paste made of peanuts, packed with calories and vitamins, that is specially formulated to renourish starving children. Since its widespread introduction five years ago, it has been credited with significantly lowering mortality rates during famines in Africa. Children on a Plumpy’nut regimen add pounds rapidly, often going from a near-death state to relative health in a month. In the world of humanitarian aid, where progress is usually measured in subtle increments of misery, the new product offers a rare satisfaction: swift, visible, fantastic efficacy."
But all is not smooth in the ranks of the humanitarians for the brand name and even patents are owned by the French firm Nutriset, which has aggressively enforced their rights...
"...rival factions were fighting over a less innocent -- though perhaps no less important -- issue: who should profit? Plaintiffs were suing, accusing her partners at Nutriset of anticompetitive practices to protect their position atop a $200 million marketplace. Doctors, foreign-aid organizations and agribusinesses were staking competing claims, each invoking the interests of the world’s most fragile children. [...] Nutriset has been richly rewarded. Last year, the company produced around 14,000 metric tons of Plumpy’nut and related products, more than a tenfold increase over the amount it made in 2004, registering $66 million in sales. The family-owned company has paid out millions in dividends"
But how amazing is this patently French miracle formula?
"A few years ago, a Unicef official gave a presentation to an industry trade group, forecasting dramatically increasing demand for peanut pastes. That got the growers excited. They looked at Nutriset’s patent and came to the conclusion that, as a technical matter, Plumpy’nut was really nothing more than fortified peanut butter. “People have been making this stuff for centuries,” Jeff Johnson, a board member of the Peanut Institute, said. “It’s nothing new."
Emphasis added by me. While the IP debate rages, kids die.

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