(NaturalNews) The Federal Circuit has ruled in favor of David Wawrzynski, declaring that he is able to pursue claims against H.J. Heinz Co. for breach of contract by stealing ideas from his patented condiment package.
Wawrzynski is an inventor and the owner of a food delivery company. In 1997, he was granted a patent for his invention, the "Little Dipper," a type of condiment package that wipes excess sauce from food articles dipped in it. For example, using the Little Dipper package, one would be able to dip a french fry into ketchup, some of which would then automatically be wiped off by the package to avoid a mess.
In March 2008, Wawrzynski sent the Heinz Company a letter requesting a meeting, so that he could present his ideas to them. With the letter, the inventor sent promotional materials describing a condiment container similar to the one in his patent. According to Heinz, they had already been developing a new ketchup package around this same time. They invited Wawrzynski to meet with them in April 2008. During the meeting, Wawrzynski discussed his ideas with them, including the concept for a package that would allow consumers to either dip foods or squeeze out the condiments as they choose.
The meeting must have gone well, as, soon after, Wawrzynski sent Heinz additional information and requested another meeting. Heinz even asked Wawrzynski to develop 100 "Little Dipper" samples for their upcoming focus groups. However, Heinz's enthusiasm soon faded; they told him that they were not interested in his ideas and did not want to receive any additional information from him or meet with him. Just a few months later, the Heinz Company came out with its new "Dip & Squeeze" packet, which has the same dual function that Wawrzynski described to the company.
On October 5, 2010, Wawrzynski filed a lawsuit against Heinz, claiming breach of an implied contract and unjust enrichment based on Heinz's alleged use of Wawrzynski's ideas. His complaints against the company referenced his patent.
Heinz counterclaimed that it did not infringe on Wawrzynski's patent and that the patent was invalid. Wawrzynski responded to this counterclaim, admitting "that Heinz is not infringing on it" and stating that he would not sue based on the patent.
Wawrzynski subsequently filed a motion for the Western District of Pennsylvania court to dismiss Heinz's counterclaims. The district court denied the motion, concluding that Wawrzynski's complaint made allegations based on his patent. Heinz also filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that Wawrzynksi's non-patent claims were preempted by federal patent law, which the court granted. Wawrzynski appealed the district court's rulings.
The Federal Circuit has jurisdiction over cases involving federal patent laws but not over cases only involving state law. The Federal Circuit also has jurisdiction over appeals involving patent infringement counterclaims, but only for actions commenced after September 15, 2011. Heinz claimed that the case was based on patent infringement, but the Federal Circuit rejected this argument. They found that, although Wawrzynski's complaint referenced his patent, it only raised two causes of action, both based on state law, and did not constitute claims of patent infringement. Wawrzynski's complaint also lacked the language that one would find in typical patent complaint; it did not contain any instances of the words "infringe," "infringement," "infringing," etc. Based on all of this, the court found that it did not have jurisdiction over the case and ordered the appeal to be transferred to the Third Circuit.
While Wawrzynski still faces coming legal battles to protect his rights, this is a significant victory that will allow the inventor to pursue fair compensation for his hard work based on state law, just as he intended.
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