PITTSBURGH (CN) - A jury must determine whether Heinz stole the idea for its "Dip & Squeeze" condiment containers from the inventor of the "Little Dipper," a federal judge ruled.
David Wawrzynski sued H.J. Heinz Co. in 2011, about a year after the ketchup giant rolled out its "Dip & Squeeze" packaging, which was two years after Wawrzynski pitched it his idea for a dual-function condiment container.
Wawrzynski, who owned a food-delivery business in Michigan, says his patent for the "Little Dipper" describes packaging with 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.
The case bounced from the state and federal courts in Michigan to the Federal and 3rd Circuits before landing last year in the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Heinz moved for summary judgment, but U.S. Judge Arthur Schwab shot the manufacturer down last week finding that Wawrzynski may persuade a jury on his contract and unjust-enrichment theories.
"Although defendants have presented evidence which suggests that prior to meeting with plaintiff, they were actively developing and marketing some sort of dual-function container, plaintiff has adduced evidence that defendants lacked success in either creating a feasible dual-function container, and/or in marketing such a container," the ruling states. "Given the evidence presented by both parties to this lawsuit, whether either or both of plaintiff's ideas were novel and concrete are questions for the jury. The credibility of the witnesses each side will present in support of its position on these issues will be germane in this regard."
Should the jury find that Wawrzynski's ideas were novel and concrete, he could pursue claims both for breach of implied contract claim and for unjust enrichment, the court found.
The ruling did not worry Michael Mullen, senior vice president of corporate and government affairs at Heinz.
"Heinz continues to believe that the lawsuit filed by Mr.Wawrzynski is groundless and has no legal merit," Mullen said in an interview.
Wawrzynski's second amended complaint alleges that Heinz had him develop 100 samples of his design "for upcoming focus groups.''
Two months after communications between the parties suddenly stopped in October 2009, an attorney wrote Wawryznski that Heinz was not interested in Wawryznski's "product ideas," according to the complaint.