"A loaf of bread", the Walrus said, “is what we chiefly need", but did he remember IP?

In previous posts, this Kat has considered the foodie IP associated with chocolate (here), animal product substitutes (here) and edible insects (here). By popular demand, she now turns her attention to one of life’s staples, the humble loaf of bread.

Bread basics

Given its ubiquity, "bread" is remarkably ill-defined. Simply put, bread is a baked food made of flour. According to Merriam-Websterbread is "a usually baked and leavened food made of a mixture whose basic constituent is flour or meal" [Kat Question: What is the difference between bread and pastry?]. Bread may or may not contain yeast, may be risen or flat, and may be baked, steamed (e.g. bao), fried (e.g. injera, mchadi) or boiled (e.g. Knedlíky) . Bread can even come in a tin (Boston bread). 

Bread Kats
The chemical processes involved in bread making are complex. Particularly, bread making methods are highly dependent on the choice of flour (e.g. wheat, rye, spelt, teff etc.) and leavening agent (e.g. sourdough culture or dried yeast). Typically, the process of making bread involves growing a yeast starter culture, adding the culture to a mixture of flour and water to make a dough, fermenting the dough for 4-12 hours, shaping the dough into a loaf, allowing the dough to rise and baking the loaf.

The typical loaf of bread can take half a day to 3 days to produce, longer if you count fermentation of the yeast starter culture. Bread baking can also involve considerable manual labour, for example, in the kneading of the dough. Bread is also a staple source of carbohydrate in many cultures. Considerable bread-tech innovation has therefore been directed to reducing the time and effort required to bake bread.

"The best thing since..."

Where to begin if not with one of the most famous inventions of all time. In 1932, the USPTO granted the first patent directed to a bread slicing machine in the name of Frederick Rohwedder of Iowa. The patent (US 1,867,377) was directed to a bread slicing machine having a frame and a series of continuous cutting bands mounted thereon. In contrast to the prior art (e.g. knives), the machine facilitated the slicing of "an entire loaf of baked bread in a single operation". The invention of the bread slicing machine apparently led to such an increase in bread consumption that there was a brief ban on sliced bread during the second world war, in order to conserve the steel used to make the slicing machines.

Bread slicing machine
Bread making helpers

Bread making often requires the step of "kneading" the dough. Kneading is defined as "to work and press into a mass with the hands". Kneading stretches or activates the gluten in the dough. As any aspiring bread baker will tell you, kneading dough can be hard work. The process of bread baking is considerably sped up by the use of an electric kneading machine. The most well-known of these machines is the KitchenAid, for which KitchenAid were granted a US patent in 1935 (US 1988244). These machines, however, have their own problems. As the aspiring bread maker will also tell you, it is common for your bread dough to get twisted around the central kneading tool, or stuck on the sides of the bowl. If this happens, the dough may not be worked uniformally. Additionally, if your bread dough is too stiff, the kneading machine motor can overheat.

Recently granted EP3187050 relates to a machine for "domestic use for the preparation of dough for bread". The movement of the kneading arm is purported to ensure a maximum mixing and blending action of the entire mass of dough. Pending application EP3420821 claims a kneading machine that prevents the dough winding around the central tool.

The labour of bread baking may still be too much for some. EP1670316 seeks to take all the effort out of home-baked bread. The claims (recently maintained in opposition) are directed to a disposable food packaging that can withstand temperatures of up to 300ºC, and includes the necessary ingredients for making the bread. As outlined in the description, use of the packaging has the great advantage that "baking does not include greasing of the baking-tin, dishwashing and cleaning of the table etc. after baking".

Bread products

The broad definition of bread, and the consequent broad range of prior art, presents challenges to innovative bakers seeking to protect bread-related inventions. In the Board of Appeals decision T 1296/04, the patentee argued that their claim directed to a method for making bread, was not invalidated by prior art relating to pizza dough. Claim 1 of the granted patent (EP 0883348) in question specified a method including the steps of preparing the dough, rolling out the dough into a flat strip, cutting the strip of dough into pieces, baking the flat pieces of dough in an oven for 2-8 minutes at 250-270ºC and cooling.

The Board of Appeal found that the claim lacked novelty in view of prior art describing pizza dough. Pizza dough was considered bread despite the addition of a small amount of oil. The only difference between the claimed method and that of the prior art was therefore identified as the specified temperature range. However, the claimed sub-range was found not to be sufficiently narrow compared to the prior art range of 204-316º C.

Unlike "bread", "French bread" is a well (and legally) defined substance. Decree No. 93-1074 defines traditional French bread as having the characteristics of being 1) composed exclusively of wheat, water and salt, 2) fermented with baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and sourdough, and containing no or only very small amounts of bean, soy or wheat malt flour. The Board of Appeal found in T 1393/10 that tinkering with the ingredients of French bread can be non-obvious. The case concerned the inventiveness of a patent directed to a process for making French sourdough bread with improved flavour. Claim 1 was directed to a method for making bread dough comprising the addition of a specified range of dry leaven (e.g. yeast) to the dough. The selected range was found to be obvious in view of the prior art. However, an auxiliary request including the step of adding bran to the bread (contrary to the legal requirements for French bread) was found non-obvious. The Board reasoned that a skilled person would be afraid to add the high amounts of bran specified in the claim to French-style bread, as they would worry that the bran would compromise the taste.

Injera bread
In another case relating to traditional bread products, reported on IPKat here. the Court of Hague found an EP patent directed to the processing of Teff flour to lack inventiveness  Teff is a staple grain in Ethiopia, used to make injera sourdough bread. The Dutch patents in question derived from EP1646287 (recently maintained in opposition). The granted EP patent claims teff flour characterized by having a lower amylase activity than traditional teff flour (as measured by the "falling number").  The lower the amylase content in the flour, the lower the content of digested sugars in the flour. The Dutch court found the patent invalid in view of the processing instructions distributed by the patentee prior to the priority date to teff growers, facilitating production of teff with the required falling number.

Rye bread prevents a challenge to the aspiring baker, as rye dough is considerably stickier and difficult to handle than wheat dough. CSM was granted a patent directed to a rye flour with a reduced protein content, allowing production of rye bread in a continuous process (EP0713365). The specification includes recipes for multigrain rolls and French bread using the flour.

The theft of smell?

"Sense of Theft"
The smell of bread, or more precisely "bread aroma" was the subject matter of granted patent EP0413368, bringing to mind the Peruvian fable The Theft of Smell. The claims of EP0413368 are directed towards a method for preparing bread flour extract, particularly rye-bread extract, characterized by use of an organic solvent as an extracting agent. The description indicates that the rye-bread aroma can be used to flavour beer and other products. Thankfully, unlike in the fable, the patentee seeks to protect a process of making bread aroma, as opposed to the smell of bread itself. 
"A loaf of bread", the Walrus said, “is what we chiefly need", but did he remember IP? "A loaf of bread", the Walrus said, “is what we chiefly need", but did he remember IP? Reviewed by Rose Hughes on Saturday, March 23, 2019 Rating: 5


  1. An amazing patent has been granted by the German Patent and Trademark Office on a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with cheese:


    Claim 18 serves as an example (English translation of the German original):
    "Ready-to-serve cheese dish (1) having a substantially terrine-shaped bread loaf lower part (3) which has an underside and which has a slicing surface (7) on the top opposite the underside and a cavity (6) which is filled with cheese (10) and is introduced from the slicing surface (7) to form a bread dough vessel (7)."

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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