The Battle of the Artificial Sweeteners and Stevia the Underdog

Patsnap has just released a new whitepaper on sugar and artificial sweeteners, which uncovers the interesting journey for the sugar substitute, Stevia. The main active compound in Stevia is Stevioside, a substance known to have little to no effect on an individual’s blood glucose. This means that it is very appealing to those people with carbohydrate controlled diets. As one of many additives, we decided to take a look at how far Stevia had come in terms of its growing influence, so we conducted a search on PatSnap Analytics of the term ‘artificial sweetener’ in the A23 (food) area and compared it with patents relating to the other main sweeteners stated by the UK’s National Health Service.

The graph below shows that prior to 2008, there was less than a 20% uplift in patent application activity for Stevia. However, from 2008/2009 we can see a large growth of patent applications and that the percentage is still on the rise.

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Seeing as the sweetener has, of course, been present for decades, we found that its early trend compared to other sweeteners was significantly different, so the signs in the patent data told us that there must have been some events that impacted its innovation history. Indeed, in 1991 Stevia was banned within the United States due to a number of studies that suggested it caused cancer. Then, in 1995 there was a follow-up study which overruled the original ban. The FDA allowed Stevia to be imported and sold as a food supplement. After this, many organizations called for the FDA to recognise Stevia as “Generally Recognised as Safe” (GRAS) because substances under this category are much easier to approve than regular food additives. Finally in 2008 the FDA approved Stevia to be categorized as GRAS - and this is when it started to be used in mainstream US food production.

If we relate this research to the graph below, we can see even more clearly the effects of the decisions taken in 1991, 1995, and 2008. The original ban of Stevia in 1991 meant that it was only mentioned directly in just 6% of patents related to artificial sweeteners in the food category. In 1995 we can see a very small increase due to the ban being overruled. Then in 2008, when Stevia was categorized as GRAS, the patent applications begin to increase exponentially. 

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Over ten years the number of patents mentioning Stevia has increased by 381%. Going back to the first graph above it is clear that other popular sweeteners such as Aspartame and Sucralose are becoming less popular. Even a non-expert in the field can see from PatSnap Analytics that it's easy to identify evolving trends within an industry sector - and track how external factors, such as legislation or changing consumer preferences are clearly revealed. Naturally, there are implications for the competitive environment - and there are implications for what's seen as valuable within an IP portolio, something that we explore in detail in our white paper.

The full whitepaper is available at: 

Use IP landscapes to add value to your patent portfolio