Smartphones are hogging most of the patent headlines these days, especially in light of the recent billion-dollar Apple-Samsung verdict. But it doesn’t take sophisticated technology to give rise to a patent lawsuit.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, a Chicago man has sued condiment-giant H.J. Heinz Co. for infringing his patent for a ketchup packet.
Scott White filed his patent application in 2005, and it was issued in July of 2012.
White’s US patent 8,231,026 is for:
A condiment container whose form factor of the condiment container is selected to enable the condiment container to be carried and held in place by a standard drink holder. By configuring the condiment container to be received in a standard drink holder, the problems associated with incorporating a condiment container in a drink container lid are overcome.
White said he came up with the idea after too many spills at the drive-through. This is his first patent; his day job is as a risk manager for the Chicago Housing Authority.
White’s suit against Heinz is based on claim 19 of the patent:
The condiment container as recited in claim 1, wherein said condiment container provides a dual function condiment container to dip a food item into the deep end of the container and to squirt a condiment from the shallow end of the container.
He says in his complaint that this feature allows people to “choose between dipping finger foods and squeezing condiments onto sandwiches or other foods.”
White claims that his invention is infringed by Heinz’s Dip & Squeeze ketchup packets, which came out in 2011.
White said he pitched Heinz the idea of the dual-use packet in 2006, after reading a front-page Wall Street Journal article about Heinz’s efforts to win back the business of supplying ketchup to McDonald’s. He says he met with a Heinz executive in the company’s Pittsburgh office.
However, Heinz passed on the invention. Four years later, White said he was shocked to discover that Heinz was introducing the Dip & Squeeze, which the company promoted as a “true packaging breakthrough” that would change the way Americans eat.
Heinz said that it took three years to develop its packet, using one-way glass to observe people trying to put ketchup on fast food in minivans.