Posted Aug 20, 2012 10:05 pm CDT
A Chicago inventor is suing ketchup-maker H.J. Heinz Co., saying the company stole his design for a flexible condiment package that it’s claiming as its own.
Scott White says he came up with the idea for a condiment container with a removable cover four years before Heinz came out with its “Dip & Squeeze” condiment package in 2011, the Wall Street Journal reports.
White, whose day job is managing risk for the Chicago Housing Authority, says he invented such a container, which he calls the “CondiCup,” in a “flash of inspiration” in 2005 after too many ketchup spills at the drive-through window..
The CondiCup, which is designed to fit in a car’s drink holder, allows the user to remove the cover at one end for squirting or squeezing the contents onto sandwiches or other foods or to remove it at the other end for dipping.
The Dip & Squeeze, which Heinz hailed at the time of its introduction as a “true packaging breakthrough” that would forever change the way Americans eat on the go, is a ketchup bottle-shaped package that can either be opened at its narrow end for squeezing or squirting or at its wide end for dipping.
According to his suit, filed earlier this month in federal court in Chicago, White says he pitched his idea for the CondiCup to Heinz executives in 2007, but heard nothing more about it until the company rolled out its Dip & Squeeze package in 2011.
A company spokesman said Heinz had worked for years to develop its patented dual-function Dip & Squeeze package. “Heinz will defend its position and demonstrate that the plaintiff’s allegations are groundless and without merit,” he said.
Patent fights are increasingly common, though they tend to be fought between big companies, like the one now being waged in California between tech giants Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., says patent expert and Rutgers University law professor Michael Carrier.
Carrier says it is rare for an individual inventor to sue a major company over patent infringement because it is more time-consuming and costly than the more common copyright and trademark infringement cases.