Jury rejects ketchup packet patent suit
Pittsburgh • A federal jury on Wednesday rejected a Michigan man's claims that a condiment package he patented in 1997 led H.J. Heinz Co. to develop its Dip & Squeeze ketchup packets in 2010.
David Wawrzynski, 44, sued Heinz in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, claiming the "Little Dipper" package he invented led the Pittsburgh-based company to develop its dual-function package. A lid can be peeled from the Dip & Squeeze so food can be dipped into the ketchup, or the end can be torn off so the ketchup can be squeezed onto food.
The jury agreed that Wawrzynski had brought a novel idea to Heinz but disagreed with his claims that Heinz used it in developing the Dip & Squeeze and that Heinz, therefore, owed him money. Had jurors ruled in favor of Wawrzynski, there would have been a second trial to determine how much money Heinz owed him.
"Heinz firmly believed all along that Mr. Wawrzynski's claims were groundless and we are pleased to have prevailed in the case," said Michael Mullen, senior vice president of corporate and government affairs for Heinz.
Wawrzynski's attorney, Eugene Boyle Jr., told reporters that the verdict was disappointing but that he was not immediately sure whether he would appeal.
He said he could not say how much money he would have sought, because an expert witness report on the value of Wawrzynski's contributions had not been completed.
Wawrzynski began working in the food industry at the age of 13 and developed his Wok to You business, which delivers Asian food from 30 different Detroit-area restaurants, by age 21. His experiences led him to tinker with condiment and sauce packaging, said Boyle, who claimed the "Little Dipper," in turn, contributed to Heinz's dual-function ketchup packet concept.
Wawrzynski's cone-shaped condiment container had a keyhole-shaped opening that helped users dip a french fry into ketchup and wipe off excess amounts as it is pulled back through the opening.
Wawrzynski did not claim that Heinz copied the exact design. Rather, he contended that Heinz was not thinking about, or had not realistically made progress, on a ketchup packet that could be dipped into and squeezed until after he pitched the "Little Dipper" to Heinz in 2008.
But Heinz attorney David Wolfsohn told the jury the Dip & Squeeze grew out of the similar "Dunk 'n Squirt" idea that Heinz began working on in 2002 but shelved in 2006 because it could not find a vendor to make the throwaway ketchup packets cheaply enough. The idea was revived in 2008, which Heinz said happened when some employees compared notes on the concept, and Wawrzynski's pitch was not the catalyst, Wolfsohn said.
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