Ralcorp found a way to make a bowl-shaped tortilla chip that didn’t infringe on a patent held by snack food giant Frito-Lay, a jury in Texas has decided.
Typically, snack food wars are waged on retail shelves. But the rivalry between the snack makers escalated in February 2012 when Frito-Lay, a unit of PepsiCo, sued Ralcorp.
The company claimed the bowl-shaped Bowlz and Cupz chips that Ralcorp’s subsidiary Medallion Foods made for Wal-Mart Stores and other retailers infringed on a patent that Frito-Lay holds for its Tostitos Scoops! chips.
In its lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas, Frito-Lay alleged Ralcorp chips intentionally attempted to imitate its Scoops! chips and infringed on its intellectual property rights. Frito-Lay sought $4.5 million in damages in addition to an injunction seeking to block Ralcorp from infringing on its patent.
“(Ralcorp’s) bowl-shaped tortilla chips and accompanying packaging are an intentional effort to imitate Frito-Lay’s distinctive Tostitos Scoops! tortilla chips and packaging, while using manufacturing processes that infringe Frito-Lay’s patent,” Frito-Lay said in its complaint.
But a jury disagreed, returning a verdict Friday that found Ralcorp and Medallion did not infringe on Frito-Lay’s intellectual property, and awarded no damages to Frito-Lay in the case.
Ralcorp is among the largest private label, or store brand, food manufacturers in the U.S., with a base of operations in St. Louis. Ralcorp was acquired by Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods earlier this year.
“The bottom line was, we build a better mousetrap,” said Scott Eidson, an attorney at Clayton-based law firm Armstrong Teasdale who represented Ralcorp in the case.
Ralcorp developed a manufacturing process for making a bowl-shaped chip that was different from Frito-Lay’s process and made a better product at a lower cost, he said.
Consumers will benefit from the jury’s decision, said David Harlan, another Armstrong Teasdale attorney who represented Ralcorp.
“Frito-Lay enjoyed an 11-year monopoly on the Scoops! products, and Ralcorp makes a product that’s one-half or two-thirds the price of Frito-Lay’s,” Harlan said. “This is breaking their monopoly.”
A spokesman for Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay said the company is disappointed with the jury’s verdict and is reviewing its options for filing post-trial motions and appealing.
Still, the snack maker tried to put the verdict in the best possible light.
“Even if upheld on appeal, the jury simply found that Ralcorp/Medallion found a way to make bowl shaped chips using a process sufficiently different than our patented process … and that their process makes chips different enough that consumers will not confuse their chips with Tostitos Scoops!” Frito-Lay spokesman Chris Kuechenmeister said in an emailed statement.