Chicago Food Fight Over Ketchup Package Patent

A patent infringement lawsuit has been filed by a Chicago man who claims that H.J. Heinz Co. ripped off his invention with the company's "Dip&Squeeze" packets.

Chicago business lawyers understand that the ketchup giant has called the suit "frivolous," and spokespersons have said the company intends to fight back.

We don't know who is right in this case. What we do know is that no matter what business you are in, your ideas are often your most valuable resource. Your intellectual property and competitive advantages must be fiercely protected. It's something Apple Inc. understood well, and why it battled Samsung in an ultimately successful bid to protect patents - to the tune $1 billion.

It's unlikely this suit will rise to that level, but the principal is the same.

The plaintiff in this case, Scott White, says he was inspired to create a condiment package after having numerous ketchup spills as a result of picking up drive-through food. He claims that he came up with a plan for a flexible condiment package that would easily fit into the cup holder of the vehicle. He said this product had the option of allowing a person to either squeeze the condiment onto a certain food, or alternately, open and dip certain foods into the sauce.

A patent was indeed filed by White for a product called "CondiCup" in 2005. He claims that Heinz heisted his invention in 2011 with its new packets that allow for the same type of product. Heinz says that while it's product did come out later, the company had been working internally for years to develop a dual-function package - which is also patented.

What may actually work in White's favor, however, is that he pitched the idea to the ketchup company in 2006. The company declined to purchase the patent from him, but then began manufacturing its own version.

However, Heinz won a similar lawsuit earlier this year, so it remains to be seen whether White will be successful. It may largely depend on how similar his product and pitch was, compared to the final design that Heinz ultimately rolled out.

White wasn't producing this product on his own, but it wouldn't matter. Under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, patent is not the right to produce a product, but rather the right to prevent others from producing, selling or importing that same product/design/article.

There are essentially three types of patents:

  • Utility

  • Design

  • Plant

Which type you apply for depends on the specifics of the invention, and even once a patent has been properly secured, it's up to the owner to enforce it.

Generally, patents last for 20 years, though you can apply to have them extended under 35 U.S.C. 154(b).

Patent laws are somewhat complex. If you have an idea or design or product that's worth protecting, we can help.

Jeremy A. Gibson & Associates is a law firm dedicated to business litigation in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois. Call 877-452-4529 for a free consultation.

Additional Resources:
Chicago Man Sues Heinz, Says It Stole His Patent for Ketchup Packets, By Lyneka Little, ABC News