Heinz sued over Dip & Squeeze packaging

August 24, 2012

When Heinz launched its "Dip & Squeeze" ketchup packet, consumers were dipping their food with appreciation for this new form of packaging.

All Scott White could see was red.

White, an independent inventor, has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Heinz, alleging that the ketchup giant stole his idea when the company launched the Dip & Squeeze product.

Heinz VP of Corporate and Government affairs Michael Mullen told PlasticsToday that Heinz won a similar lawsuit earlier this summer.

"This is another frivolous lawsuit and we will aggressively defend our position and demonstrate that the allegations are groundless and without merit," he said. "As a leader in proprietary packaging innovation for more than a century, Heinz worked for years to develop its patented dual-function Dip & Squeeze package."

White told PlasticsToday he could not comment on this pending legal matter at this time. 

"When the matter concludes, I will have more latitude to talk," he said.

John Leja, an attorney for White, said they don't typically make their clients available for interviews.

"We would not have filed the action if we believed Mr. White's claims lacked merit and/or that his patent was not valid," he said.

Tomato fight: Dispute over packaging innovation

In the lawsuit, White said the idea for the package stemmed from his frustration by the obstacles of neatly consuming fast food and its attendant condiments in the comfort of his vehicle.

Frustration turned into a "flash" of inspiration for White. He invented a condiment container called the CondiCup, for which he filed a patent application in 2005.

The next year, White read a Wall Street Journal article detailing Heinz attempts to rekindle a relationship with McDonald's by offering innovative packaging solutions.

The lawsuit states that White saw an opportunity to market his invention to the company, and he emailed a Heinz executive and described his patent-pending CondiCup packaging design. The executive invited White to Heinz's headquarters in Pittsburgh to present to the company.

White's lawsuit states that instead of dealing fairly with him, Heinz cut him out. 

"The behemoth international company could not be bothered to contract with a start-up American small business," the lawsuit stated.

White heard nothing from Heinz during the next four years, but was surprised to discover in 2010 that Heinz was on the cusp of launching a substantial marketing push centered on "a familiar looking condiment container."

In 2011, Heinz launched the Dip & Squeeze to consumers claiming it would change the way Americans eat on-the-goforever. The Dip & Squeeze was the company's first ketchup packet makeover in 42 years.

"The response from consumers who have had the chance to experience the new Dip & Squeeze Ketchup package has been overwhelmingly positive," said John Bennett, Vice President of Marketing at Heinz, in a news release at the time. "People have been telling us that they love the convenience and functionality of the new package, and we are thrilled that it is now available to people nationwide."

The Heinz Dip & Squeeze gave consumers two options: a peel back lid for dipping, or the ability to tear off the tip and squeeze onto their foods.

The bottle-shaped package consists of three times the amount of a traditional 9g film package.

Consisting of polyester laminated to a high-barrier sealant web, the package incorporates a squeezable dip cup for easy opening. A proprietary sealant and molded-in dispensing features make the dip and squeeze format controlled.

Since the launch, the company received tons of praise, including awards from the packaging industry such as being honored with the Silver Award in Innovation from the DuPont Awards for Packaging Innovation. The Dip & Squeeze was also recognized by the National Restaurant Association during its Food and Beverage Product Innovation Awards.

In 2012, Heinz reported it sold more than one billion packages of the Dip & Squeeze and called it a "global priority for the company."

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued White a patent for his CondiCup application this past July. In his lawsuit, it states that the Dip & Squeeze infringes on one or more claims of the patent.

Leja said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issuing the patent to White is significant.

"We seek to enforce it against those who are infringing.  We believe Heinz to be infringing," he said "You may have additional questions, but this is all we can provide you at this point in time."

Heinz states it holds more than a dozen patents, and the company says two of which apply to the Dip & Squeeze container.

White is seeking a trial by jury as well as compensation for patent infringement.

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