(CN) – An inventor can pursue claims that H.J. Heinz Co. breached their contract by stealing his idea for dip-friendly condiment package, the Federal Circuit ruled.
David Wawrzynski, the owner of a food delivery business, invented and patented a condiment packaging concept he called the “Little Dipper,” which has a flexible lid that wipes away excess condiment off of a French fry, or other food, as it exits the container to minimize drips or spills.
Wawrzynski pitched the packaging idea to Heinz in an April 2008 meeting, and also shared his idea of creating a “dual function” package that would allow a customer to either dip their fries into the container, or alternatively squeeze out the condiment.
After the meeting, Heinz informed Wawrzynski that it was not interested in his pitch.
Wawrzynski said Heinz nevertheless put his idea into practice months later with the release of its new “Dip & Squeeze” packet.
He sued for breach of implied contract and unjust enrichment, but never made claims for patent infringement and affirmatively denied that his state-law claims related to his patent.
Heinz successfully removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction, and a federal judge found for Heinz after seeing no implication of patent law.
A three-judge panel of the Federal Circuit ordered the case transferred to the 3rd Circuit on Friday.
This case “came to us on appeal from a District Court summary judgment that the plaintiff had failed to prove infringement of his patent,” the 14-page opinion begins. “It leaves us as a transfer to the applicable regional circuit on the ground that plaintiff’s case from the beginning was not a patent infringement case.”
Since Wawrzynski’s complaint included just three sentences about his patent, it should be read as a contract dispute, the court found.
“Mr. Wawrzynski’s sparse background discussion of his patent does not make a well-pleaded complaint for patent infringement, especially in light of the evidence of clear intention on his part to specifically assert counts under state law,” Judge Jay Plager wrote for the appellate panel in Washington. “Construing Mr. Wawrzynski’s complaint to the contrary would turn the well-pleaded complaint rule on its head, making Mr. Wawrzynski the ‘master of nothing.'”
Many of Wawrzynski’s claims refer to materials and marketing ideas, such as the “Little Dipper” name and a pull-tab design, that are not included in the registered patent, the court found.
In addition, if Wawrzynski intended to invoke his patent rights, he would have filed in federal court, rather than state court.
Plager agreed with the inventor that his patent “is part of the background of his action, but his patent neither discloses nor claims the ideas for which he is seeking relief.”
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