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David Wawrzynski v. H. J. Heinz Company

May 16, 2012

DAVID WAWRZYNSKI,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
H. J. HEINZ COMPANY, ET AL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge

ELECTRONICALLY FILED MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. NO. 81) BECAUSE PLAINTIFF'S COMMON LAW CLAIMS ARE PREEMPTED BY FEDERAL PATENT LAW

Plaintiff sued Defendants for breach of implied contract and unjust enrichment pertaining to a device used to dispense ketchup. Doc. No. 4. In response to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Defendants counterclaimed seeking a declaration that they did not infringe Plaintiff's patent and/or that the Plaintiff's patent is invalid. Doc. No. 26.

Currently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment contending that Plaintiff's claims for breach of implied contract and unjust enrichment are preempted by federal patent law. Doc. Nos. 67 and 68. Defendants' Motion argues that (1) Plaintiff's two common law claims are preempted by federal patent law, and (2) based on the evidence of record cannot prevail on either common law claim. Id.

Plaintiff timely filed his Brief in Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. No. 80. Plaintiff counters Defendants' preemption argument by contending that he sued Defendants for using his ideas which he presented to Defendants and claims that these presented ideas were not the subject of his patent. Id.

In their Reply Brief, Defendants suggested that the case law upon which Plaintiff relies to support his legal position is distinguishable from the facts herein. Doc. no. 83.

With briefing concluded, this matter is ripe for adjudication.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The following facts are material and uncontested unless otherwise indicated.

Plaintiff is the owner of a method patent which patented his idea for dipping French fries (and/or other food items) into a ketchup or other condiment container (hereinafter the '990 patent). Doc. No. 34-1. The "method" that Plaintiff patented in the '990 patent was a "method" that would allow a diner to dip a French fry (or other item) into a condiment container, obtain some condiment on the item, and then "wipe" any excess condiment from the item upon its removal from the container. Id.

Plaintiff and Defendants agree that Plaintiff met with various representatives of Defendants and corresponded with representatives of Defendants with respect to the development of a ketchup container. Doc. Nos. 4-2 to 4-7. Subsequent to meeting and corresponding with one another, Defendants manufactured and marketed the "Dip and Squeeze" container for ketchup.

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendants claiming Defendants breached an implied contract with him and were unjustly enriched by their marketing of the "Dip and Squeeze," which was predicated (per Plaintiff) on his ideas and patent. Doc. No. 4.

In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff stated:

30. For years, Mr. Wawrzynski has examined and worked with condiment packaging in order to develop a more effective, portable condiment delivery system.

31. On April 29, 1996, Mr. Wawrzynski filed for a patent for Method of food article and wiping in a condiment container.

32. On October 14, 1997, Mr. Wawrzynski was issued a patent for his Method of food article dipping and ...


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