Some of the biggest names in US food manufacturing – including Nestle, Kellogg and Unilever - have been accused of infringing patents covering fats that alter the ratio of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood.
Brandeis University and GFA Brands allege that well-known products made by Pillsbury (Gen Mills), Nestlé, Famous Amos (Kellogg), East Side Ovens, Keebler, Murray, Voortman, Bremner, Wessanen, Cookie Specialties and Topco infringe US patent # 5,843,497 (issued 1998).
Separately, they claim products made by Unilever, Conopco, Keebler and Bremner infringe US patent # 6,630,192 (issued 2003).
The patents - awarded to Brandeis and licensed exclusively to GFA Brands (which makes Smart Balance spreads) – cover fats and fat blends that decrease ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and increase ‘good’ HDL cholesterol in the human serum.
Rolls, cookies, cookie dough and spreads allegedly infringe patents
The plaintiffs, represented by legal firm Quarles & Brady LLP, have filed a series of complaints against the food manufacturing giants listed above in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Products including Pillsbury’s Grands Flaky Layers reduced fat biscuits and reduced fat crescent rolls; Nestlé’s Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough; and Famous Amos’ Bite Size Chocolate Chip & Pecans Cookies and Chocolate Chip Cookies infringe “at least Claim 7 of the ‘497 patent”, allege the plaintiffs.
And Unilever’s Promise Buttery Spread infringes “at least Claim 1 of the ‘192 patent”, while Keebler’s Vanilla Wafers and Mini Vanilla Wafers infringe “at least Claims 1 and 46 of the ‘192 patent”, they allege.
Infringement ‘severely undermines’ investments made by Brandeis, GFA
The plaintiffs, who are seeking a jury trial and damages, allege that the defendants have made, sold or imported products that infringe the patents, or bought fats that infringe the patents and used them in the manufacture of their products.
They add: “All of these infringing acts severely undermine Plaintiffs’ significant investment in the inventions of the Patents-in-Suit, all to Plaintiffs’ detriment.”
They note that GFA has made “significant investment in researching, developing, and marketing products [under the Smart Balance brand] that embody the inventions of the patents”.
Kellogg, Nestlé: We will vigorously defend ourselves
But the firms named in the lawsuits say the allegations are without merit.
Kellogg spokesperson Kris Charles said: "We believe the allegations are without merit and intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit."
A Nestlé spokesperson added: “Nestlé continues to vigorously defend itself against the allegations in this lawsuit.”
General Mills said it would not comment on pending litigation, while Unilever did not respond to a request for comment.
Click here to read the complaint, filed on March 1 in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Click here to look at the ‘192 patent, which was issued on October 7, 2003 with an Ex Parte reexamination Certificate issued on September 19, 2006.
Click here to look at the ‘497 patent.