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Heinz Declares Victory in Condiment Wars; Patent Holder Vows to Fight On

LITIGATION UPDATE. As we originally reported way back in 2012, Chicago inventor Scott White has been waging an ongoing war with Kraft Heinz Co. over rights to an innovative design for ketchup and other condiments that White had dubbed the "CondiCup." White, a former risk manager for the Chicago Housing Authority, had claimed that Heinz stole his idea for the flexible condiment package after he had applied for registration of a patent for the design and had entered into negotiations with Heinz for a license to use the design for its ketchup and other dippable condiments. White filed suit against Heinz for patent infringement and Heinz contested the efficacy of the underlying patent on file with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (the "P.T.O."). Unfortunately, for White, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal District Circuit recently ruled in favor of Heinz and affirmed an earlier 2013 P.T.O. decision finding that many of White's claims were too obvious to be patentable and therefore canceling the patent.

In our earlier article entitled "Dip & Squeeze" vs. "CondiCup" - Who Owns the New Ketchup Packet Design?", we reported that:

Everybody loves French fries and most of us enjoy them with ketchup. But, who hasn't fumbled with the traditional fast food ketchup packet and squirted ketchup across a tie, dress shirt, or even the car seat? It's always been a frustrating problem.

Or, at least, it was until 2010, when H. J. Heinz Company seemed to solve the problem by coming out with a new design for of easy-to-use packaging it labeled the "Dip & Squeeze" packet. The packet was designed to be both a "squirt-able" package and a "dip-able" package and it gave a newfound freedom to fast food connoisseurs to both easily spread the condiment on burgers or hot dogs as well as use it as a dip for French fries.

Unfortunately for Heinz (and maybe, too, for consumers), the company may have stolen the idea. According to a lawsuit filed earlier this year, Scott White, an inventor who works as a risk analyst at the Chicago Housing Authority by day, claims that he invented the remarkably similar CondiCup design and presented the idea to Heinz in 2006. White asserts in the complaint that his design was created to fit into a car's cup holder and was actually the first such design to allow consumers to either peel off a small portion of the lid to squeeze a condiment out or to remove the lid entirely for easy dipping.

In July (of 2012), White was granted a patent through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the CondiCup, by Heinz maintains its Dip & Squeeze design is original and owned by the company. Without providing details, a spokesperson for Heinz has stated that the company "worked for years to develop its patented dual-function Dip & Squeeze package." And, she added, "Heinz won a similar lawsuit earlier this summer. This is another frivolous lawsuit and we will aggressively defend our position and demonstrate that the allegations are groundless and without merit."

Eventually, it may be up to a panel of jurors to decide who will reap the benefits of the design (aside from French fry lovers, of course). As it turns out, the issue may never be presented to a jury because the patent infringement action is stayed pending the outcome of the appeal and White and his attorneys are currently considering their options.

Why It Matters. Generally speaking, patent infringement is the act of making, using, selling, or offering to sell a patented invention, or importing into the United States a product covered by a claim of a patent without the permission of the patent owner. Further, an alleged infringer may be considered to infringe a patent if it imports items into the United States that are made by a patented method, unless the item is materially changed by subsequent processes or becomes a trivial and nonessential component of another product. A person "infringes" a patent by practicing each element of a patent claim with respect to one of these acts. Further, actively encouraging others to infringe patents, or supplying or importing components of a patented invention, and related acts can also give rise to liability in certain cases.

A patent owner can sue in federal court for patent infringement. If the patent owner is able to prove infringement, the court may order payment of monetary damages and/or stop infringing one or more patent claims. A court can also find that (1) an alleged infringer does not need a license to the patent because it doesn't practice the invention, (2) one or more of the patent claims are not valid, or (3) there are other reasons why the patent owner is not entitled to prevail against you.

Further, the court may conclude that the patent claim is not valid if it is shown that the claimed invention was disclosed in a prior patent or patents, a book, a magazine, a newspaper, a television show or movie, a webpage or other published work before the date of the claimed invention. Also the court may conclude that the patent claim is not valid if it is shown that the claimed invention was offered for sale in this country or was disclosed to the public more than one year before the application for the patent was filed. In addition, the court could find the patent invalid because it does not meet other statutory requirements, such as a sufficient written description of the invention, or because it does not describe subject matter that is patent eligible.

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