Frito-Lay North America Inc. lost its court battle over bowl-shaped tortilla chips on March 1, when a Sherman federal jury issued a take-nothing verdict against the Plano-based company.
Frito-Lay had sued St. Louis-based Ralcorp Holdings and its Medallion Foods subsidiary in Frito-Lay North America Inc. v. Medallion Foods Inc. et al. In an amended complaint filed Aug. 17, 2012, Frito-Lay had alleged that it marketed the bowl-shaped chips under the name "Tostitos Scoops" and the defendants marketed under the name "Bowlz." By doing so, Frito-Lay alleged Ralcorp and Medallion had violated multiple intellectual property rights of Frito-Lay.
Frito-Lay alleged the following causes of action against the defendants in its complaint: trademark infringement, trade dress infringement, unfair competition and dilution, patent infringement, and unjust enrichment under Texas common law.
In an amended answer filed Jan. 13, the defendants denied the allegations.
After a nine-day trial, the jury concluded that the defendants were not liable for any of the causes of action.
T. John Ward Jr. of Longview’s Ward & Smith Law Firm, who represents Ralcorp and Medallion, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Tim Durst, a partner in the Dallas office of Baker Botts, represents Frito-Lay. He sent a company statement: "Frito-Lay is disappointed with the jury’s verdict, but committed to continuing innovation for our consumers and protecting our intellectual property rights. If upheld, the jury’s finding simply means that RalCorp/Medallion found a way to make bowl shaped tortilla chips using a process sufficiently different than our patented process that it was deemed to not infringe, and that their process makes chips different enough that consumers will not confuse their chips with Tostitos SCOOPS! In other words, the jury agreed with Defendants’ own argument that their product is not comparable to the design of the great Tostitos SCOOPS! products that tens of millions of Americans have come to love. . . . The company is reviewing its options for post-trial motions and appeal."
Durst declines to discuss the litigation further except to note that the trial took an unusual procedural turn when presiding U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant "allowed the jurors to submit written questions" to witnesses. The jurors passed written questions to Mazzant, who then excused the panel; the judge reviewed the queries with both sides’ counsel, brought the jury back into the courtroom and asked witnesses to answer the inquiries approved by both sides, Durst says.
"It gave us a little bit of insight into what the jury was thinking. I thought it was very productive," Durst says.