A recent Wall Street Journal article “Heinz Sued Over ‘Dip & Squeeze‘” revealed that a Chicago inventor is putting the legal squeeze on Heinz for patent infringement. The inventor, Scott White, says that he had a “flash of inspiration” and approached Heinz in 2005 with his own condiment dispenser he calls the “CondiCup” which was rejected by the company. (Mr. White filed for a patent for his product the same year and received the patent approval this year.)
Heinz, in requisite corporate fashion, responded to the inventor’s claims by stating that the lawsuit was “frivolous” and had “no merit”. They further stated that they’ve been working on the new package “for years”. Sounds vaguely like what Ford said about the intermittent wiper system that Dr. Kearns invented and pitched to Ford (Kearns won his lawsuit against Ford who essentially lifted his idea and marketed it as their own).
If Mr. White’s claims are supported by documentation, how nice it would be if Heinz just did the right thing and said mea culpa – and paid the man fair and square for his ingenuity. But with the potential for Heinz to score big profits for this ingenious condiment packet, that’s probably not probable.
We don’t have all the facts yet. But Mr. White’s reported timeline from concept pitch and initial patent filing to his claim of a valid patent sure puts Heinz’ ketchup packet claims in hot mustard right now…and if proven true, could leave some mighty juicy, tomato-faced managers at the giant food conglomerate.
P.S. If you’ve read as many books as I have on patents, trademarks, and inventing – and the many caveats about dealing with big corporations as an inventor – it’s hard not to root for the underdog.
P.P.S. One interesting note…on the Heinz Wiki there’s a short paragraph dedicated to the founder, Henry John Heinz:
Henry John Heinz learned from his parent’s ideas, making him a progressive businessman. He believed in fairness in business, saying, “Deal with the seller so justly that he will want to sell to you again”.
Hmmmm…sounds like part of a Mission Statement to me. Wonder what great grandpa would say about this business?
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