MANHATTAN (CN) – Pepsico has no claim to original documents about the invention of its signature soft drink, say two brothers who are claiming their father deserves the credit.
“By this action, the heirs seek to eliminate any doubt that original, historically significant documents belonging to their deceased father, Richard John Ritchie (‘Ritchie’), who is historically acknowledged as the person who developed the original, commercially successful formula for Pepsi-Cola on or about 1931 (the ‘Ritchie Invention’), are their personal property, as his lawful heirs, which they may freely share with historians, collectors, journalists, and television and film producers, and ultimately, members of the interested public, to tell their father’s extraordinary life story without interference or the threat of litigation from Mr. Ritchie’s former employer, Pepsi,” the complaint begins.
Ritchie had “no advanced education in chemistry,” and “only ethereal aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player,” before candymaker Loft Inc. hired him, according to the inventor’s estate and children, Joan Ritchiie Silleck and Robert Ritchie.
“In 1931, Loft’s president, Charles Guth, personally acquired in his own name the bankrupt Pepsi-Cola Company (for himself and other investors) because he wanted to use a less expensive cola syrup to replace the costly Coca-Cola product in the Loft candy stores,” the complaint states.
That year, Ritchie created the formula for Pepsi-Cola syrup at age 23, his heirs say.
Pepsi-Cola started thriving over the course of a decade, while the Loft candy shop took a nosedive, according to the complaint.
“Loft ultimately renamed itself the Pepsi-Cola Company in 1941 and spun off the failing candy business,” the lawsuit states.
That same year, Ritchie wrote down the formula, which was subsequently locked in a bank vault, the heirs say.
A decade later, Ritchie signed an agreement to become an outside consultant, thereby annulling a prior agreement that kept him from claiming the formula, according to the complaint.
“The 1951 consulting agreement expressly cancelled all rights, duties and obligations and superseded all prior agreements and understandings between Pepsi and Mr. Ritchie,” the complaint states.
Three years after the agreement’s noncompete clause expired in 1959, Ritchie joined a New Jersey-based competitor called lthe Cantrell & Cochrane Company (C&C), with no objection from Pepsi.
“While at C&C, he developed the formula for C&C Cola, once again with no protest by Pepsi,” the complaint states.
Ritchie’s heirs say their father honored a provision of the contract against “voluntary” disclosures of the formula until his death in 1985.
A third son who has since died of Parkinson’s disease obtained three boxes of Ritchie’s secret documents and discovered their contents when he looked through them in 2008, according to the complaint.
The surviving heirs say Pepsi’s lawyers have threatened to sue them if they disclose the documents, which the company claims remains a trade secret.
The Ritchie heirs seek unspecified damages, an injunction stopping Pepsi from challenging their ownership of the documents, and declaratory judgment stating that the documents belong to their family.
They are represented by Stuart Sinder and Elizabeth Gardner of Kenyon & Kenyon.