Patenting Mushroom Inventions
Mushroom or fungus inventions fall into one or more of the following four categories:
- Compositions of matter;
- Methods or Processes;
- Plants or Living organisms; and
- Machines or Devices.
All four of these categories of invention are potentially patentable. The critical questions for patentability is whether the invention is both (1) new and (2) non-obvious. Of these, composition of matter claims are particularly valuable because they cover all uses of the composition. Below, I briefly explain each of the four categories of patentable subject matter.
Patenting Mushroom Compositions
New mushroom compositions are potentially patentable. To be patentable, the composition must be manmade–in other words, not naturally occurring.
Isolating a specific compound from a mushroom would create a new patentable composition because the purified form of that compound would be new. Similarly, creating an unnatural combination of mushroom compounds would give rise to a new, patentable composition. Even though the individual components were known, that particular combination did not exist before the inventor prepared it.
Examples of patentable compounds would include a purified form of an individual molecule found within a mushroom. Such a molecule could have a variety of uses, such as a drug candidate. (See, e.g., Patenting Psilocybin Technology).
New combinations of fungal materials could also be patentable, such as within supplements. For example, Fungi Perfecti makes a wide range of products comprising freeze-dried mushroom mycelium/fruitbodies. Provided that Fungi Perfecti chooses particular non-naturally occurring mixtures of the fungi, those products would be patentable as new compositions. Again, even though the individual components were known, that particular combination did not exist before the inventor prepared it.
Additionally, new compositions useful for cultivating mushrooms would be patentable provided that those compositions were not previously disclosed prior to the invention. Here, new formulas for enhancing mycelial running or fruitbody formation would be patentable.
Patenting Mushroom Devices
Devices invented for mushroom cultivation are patentable. Patentable devices could include tools or machines used in cultivating or harvesting mushrooms. For example, devices for sterilizing equipment, purifying air, facilitating spawning, and/or initiating fruitbody formation.
Some examples of inventions that would fall under the category of “device” include improvements on spawn bags, filter patches, humidifiers, flow hoods, lights, hydrometers, etc..
Patenting Fungus Processes or Methods
Inventive processes for cultivating and harvesting mushrooms are patentable. For example, in 2005, Stewart C. Miller patented a process for growing morels. The process involves inoculating tree seedlings with morel mycelium, then allowing the mycelium to grow, and lastly killing the seedlings to induce the morels to fruit. See US Patent 6,907,691 and
US Patent 6,951,074.
Methods of using fungi are also patentable. For example, Paul Stamets has patented a method of attracting (and killing) harmful insects by using the non-sporulating mycelial stage of insect-specific parasitic fungi. See US Patent 6660290, entitled “Mycopesticides.”
Patenting Genetically Modified Fungi
New, man-made organisms can be patented. Accordingly, the inventor of a genetically modified fungus could apply for a patent on that organism. Here, the inventor would probably also seek a patent on the method for making the new GMO fungus. This technology has recently become important within the context of genetically modified foods. Specifically, the CRISPR/Cas9 edited mushroom was engineered to that resist browning when exposed to air.