Suit claims Heinz stole idea for ketchup packet

By Martha C. White

Why should smartphone titans have all the fun when it comes to filing patent infringement lawsuits? An employee of the Chicago Housing Authority is suing H.J. Heinz Co. on the grounds that his invention was the basis for the “Dip & Squeeze” ketchup packet the company debuted last year.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Scott White applied for a patent in 2005, which was granted last month, for a condiment container that gave the user the option of squeezing out the contents or lifting up the top to get access.

In his filing, White said he pitched his “CondiCup,” the name he trademarked for his invention, to Heinz, even traveling out to the company’s Pittsburgh headquarters to show company executives the product. The company declined to work with White. “The behemoth international company could not be bothered to contract with a start-up American small business,” he charged In his complaint.

White’s creation isn’t identical to Heinz’s multifunctional ketchup packet. His was round and designed to fit in a car cup holder without spilling, while Heinz’s in in the shape of a miniature ketchup bottle.

But White argued in his filing that one key element of his CondiCup — a top that can be opened two different ways, from the side to squeeze ketchup onto a hamburger, or from the top so fast-food diners can dip French fries into it — also is at the heart of what makes Heinz’s “Dip & Squeeze” container an innovation breakthrough.

In a segment of the company’s 2010 annual report cited in White’s suit, Heinz touted the “revolutionary package” it planned to launch. In other materials produced in conjunction with the Dip & Squeeze’s 2011 rollout, the company said it had taken three years to develop the new packet, which White pointed out was two years after he presented his concept to Heinz.

A company spokesperson told the Journal, “Heinz will defend its position and demonstrate that the plaintiff’s allegations are groundless and without merit.”

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