Woman Can't Prove Firm Stole 'Pet-Friendly' Idea
(CN) - An Illinois woman failed to prove that a plant company stole her idea for "pet-friendly" plants, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Retired copywriter Susan Spitz pitched her idea for "pet-safe" plants to Amerinova, which licenses and develops varieties of plants.
Spitz had worked with the defendants in the early 2000s, including contributions to the Gardener's Idea Book.
The second edition of the book, published in 2005, included a section about plants that could withstand pet traffic. The section also mentioned that the Humane Society website had a list of plants that were harmful to pets.
Before presenting the "Pet Safe Plants" line, Spitz required Amerinova officials to sign a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements.
Amerinova offered Spitz a 2-cent royalty on each plant sold, but she did not immediately accept the offer. She claimed that she accepted the offer during a later meeting.
The project stalled, but Spitz later discovered that Proven Winners, a company partially owned by Amerinova's owners, added "pet friendly" to its plant tags and website.
Spitz sued Proven Winners North America LLC and EuroAmerican Propagators LLC for breach of an alleged agreement with Amerinova.
The district court ruled that Spitz did not have a contract with Euro or Proven Winners, so she cannot prevail on her breach of contract claim.
Spitz appealed, but the Chicago-based 7th Circuit upheld the district court's decision.
"She raises a host of reasons why any contract with Amerinova also binds Proven Winners and Euro, but none of them holds water," Circuit Judge Michael S. Kanne wrote on the court's behalf.
The judge added that she did not prove an agency relationship despite the companies' common owners.
"Spitz was explicitly told on multiple occasions that she was negotiating with Amerinova, not Euro or Proven Winners. Marshall Dirks told her that Proven Winners was not interested in the idea," Kanne wrote.