When it comes to supplement labels, regardless of if this is your first time purchasing or the umpteenth time, there are likely certain things that you have never stopped to consider. One of these has to be exactly what constitutes a patented ingredient, and what makes it to special in the first place.
The first, and most easily identifiable trait of a patented ingredient is the name – usually, something fancy sounding that still gives an indication of what it is. Though not the rule, this often holds true in many supplements. Now that you have a very primitive picture in your mind of how a patented ingredient will be represented on a label, the important question still lies unanswered- what exactly is so special about a patented ingredient?
Let’s check out what all the hubbub is about.
What Is A Patented Ingredient?
A patented ingredient is unique in the sense that it was first to market with a concept no other company possesses. You can think of it as a privilege given to the manufacturer that “invents” something that will likely be of great benefit.
Throughout history, there have been many patented ingredients and inventions, though the duration of these patents is not infinite. For instance, in terms of medications and drugs, a patent lasts approximately 20 years and is roughly the same duration that supplement patents last for.
Patented ingredients do have pros and cons, however, such as:
Proof of scientific efficacy as the patent holder would have needed to carry out testing to show their validity of claims made.
Patented ingredients are usually on the higher end of the purity spectrum, and adhere to rigorous quality controls.
Patented ingredients are significantly more expensive than non-patented ingredients based on the fact that a lot of money has likely been spent on research and development of the product, and also since the manufacturer hopes to make a handsome profit from having a monopoly on the supplement at that time.
Patented ingredients are not always readily available.
What Is A Non-Patented Ingredient?
Non-patented ingredients fall into one of two classes; either ingredients that have been about for years and which did not have an original patent enforced or previously patented ingredients whose coverage is expired now making it fair game for other manufacturers to use the said ingredient.
Like patented ingredients, non-patented ingredients also possess their unique strengths and weaknesses:
Prices much cheaper than previously patented ingredients
Much more widely available in a number of formulations
Non-patented ingredients will not carry the classic “brand trademark” that you may have become accustomed to seeing, and thus may require some amount of sleuthing to find out what it is.
Non-patented ingredients do not have a high-quality control standards to adhere to, meaning that potency may be slightly less than advertised (to an acceptable limit), and purity may not be the same. Purity is very important if you possess allergies to specific ingredients.
Offshore supplement companies usually have relaxed manufacturing controls, meaning that your purchased products may carry a shorter shelf life, for instance. Regulation of supplement manufacturers in India, for example, is much looser than in the United States. Manufacturers can get away with using raw material closer to the expiry dates, and may be reflected by a very short shelf life after purchasing.
The Trust Factor
The major advantage patented ingredients have over non-patented ones is consumer trust. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the pharmaceutical industry, where branded (and often times still in patent) medications rule the roost simply because they are well-known. This does not generally indicate that the public knows the ins and outs of what a patented ingredient is, but just the fact that they’re perceived more trustworthy is a major advantage.
Take for instance reaching for a few Tylenol pills when you have a fever, as opposed to some random generic manufactured overseas. Which are you more likely to trust with your health? The same applies to supplement ingredients.
One very important observation you need to make when deciding whether to choose patented or non-patented ingredients is if any of the companies rely on “borrowed science”. Borrowed science refers to piggybacking off of the clinical research done on (usually patented) other ingredients and claiming that yours is the one responsible for it.
Such as would be the claim of a company making whey protein concentrate and claiming that this is the fastest absorbing protein as proven by science when in reality that accolade belongs to whey hydrolysate. The average uninformed consumer is unlikely to be able to differentiate such minuscule differences in claims. But regardless, it still borders on false marketing.
What Makes A Patented Ingredient Special?
Firstly, it is important to realize that you cannot patent ingredients that have been in the public domain for a number of years, at least not without making modifications that convert it into a different ingredient altogether. For example, creatine monohydrate has been in the public consciousness for years, and if it was patented it likely expired many moons ago.
However, fast forward to Kre-Alkalyn, a unique spin on creatine that is currently under patent. This is a pH buffered version of creatine that was formulated in 2001 and will be under patent until the year 2021. There have been clinical studies carried out that allowed the ingredient to become patented in the first place, though based on anecdotal reports of users the results from usage are not that different from basic creatine monohydrate.
Regardless, the company offered a unique selling position that was one-of-a-kind, and as a result, they were granted a patent. When that patent expires in 2021, it becomes fair game for any other manufacturer desirous of including it in their formulations. It is important to realize, however, that the manufacturer will still own the Kre-Alkalyn brand trademark unless they forfeit it, meaning that generic versions will not carry the same brand name.
Should You Choose Patented Over None Patented Ingredients?
The answer to this question is subjective. Based on what you are looking for specifically, you may find both versions of patented and non-patented ingredients alike, but patented does not always mean better.
Indeed, the original patented brand carries name recognition and is more likely to guarantee purity, but you have to keep in mind that sometimes they are not superior to generic versions.
With that in mind, you must also consider the fact that many of the manufacturers in the supplement/pharmaceutical industry today that are innovators do bring to market completely new offerings or upgraded versions that are superior to other generics, which must be protected by patents to guarantee counterfeit protection and financial recovery.
At the end of it all, be smart about what you choose. You do not necessarily have to choose the latest greatest patented form of caffeine which may not do anything different from basic caffeine unless you are looking for a fast way to burn a hole in your pocket.