The meat scientist who brought us the petite tender and the flat iron steaks, Tony Mata, has done it again. He has found a previously unknown steak in the beef carcass. This one — called the Vegas Strip — is said to be much like the New York Strip steak in terms of tenderness and appearance. Mata has said he thinks this could be the last beef steak that will be discovered (though, he added, he will continue to look).
The Vegas Strip reportedly comes from the carcass’s front end, in an area currently being ground for hamburger. Its location is known only imprecisely because there’s a patent pending on the steak, or more accurately, on the cuts required to create the steak. Mata partnered with Oklahoma State University on this steak, not only for the benefits of the university’s facilities but also its intellectual property rights expertise. The ultimate goal is to generate interest among restaurants and then charge packing plants a licensing fee to cut and sell the steaks to them.
If the patent application is successful, it wouldn’t be the first patented meat product. That honor is held by Eugene Gagliardi, who invented the Steak-Umm and patented it in 1986 — said to be the first patent on meat cutting in the world. The Steak-Umm was different from the Vegas Strip in that it was an industrial process: There were many steps to creating a Steak-Umm including molding, freezing, tempering and slicing. Gagliardi went on to earn about 40 other patents on meats, including one for popcorn chicken (which he sold to KFC in the 1990s); he’s still working, at age 82, in his home workshop, slicing up beef and chicken.
Last year, the Patent and Trademark Office in this country approved more than 1,000 patents related to food products. (That might sound like a lot, until you consider it granted a total of 247,000 patents.) Patent officers consider three important criteria: The thing has to be novel, it cannot be an obvious extension of what’s already known, and it has to be useful. Patents, which last for 20 years, protect the invention from anyone who might want to copy it. Some observers have suggested that the Vegas Strip patent application may not meet the non-obvious criterion, because an experienced butcher would likely be able to create the steak once he sees it (which is why no photos of the cut are currently available).
The case for usefulness might be clearer. From the industry’s side, the last few years have seen a peak in the international demand for beef’s most expensive cuts, so selling the less expensive cuts has been the focus for some time. In the case of the Vegas Strip, a steak that’s less costly than a New York Strip, but tastes similar, is a benefit to consumers. The fact that it’s made from meat that would otherwise be destined for the grinder is good news for producers; it raises the value of the carcass. Another useful aspect of the Vegas Strip contributes to its cost efficiency: It doesn’t require aging to be tender, according to Mata.
After a patent is filed, it can take the patent office up to three years to make a decision. Meanwhile, licenses for the Vegas Strip are available, and a couple of suppliers are already fabricating the new steak.