Tags: Risk Management

The formula for the manufacture of Coca-Cola continues to be a closely held “trade secret” and to everyone’s knowledge, unduplicated by competitors to date. Patented processes and formulas, while protected under the law, have a limited life for such protection, after which time the information becomes public domain. Deciding whether to patent a process or not is an important decision that can impact later on after it is too late to change one’s mind. For instance, bacon is every chef's secret ingredient, but if the technology for making the stuff has been patented it can no longer be considered part of a company's trade secrets, according to the judge in a lawsuit between Hormel Foods Corp. and Unitherm Food Systems Inc.

Unitherm filed a lawsuit in 2014 in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, alleging breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets and unjust enrichment, among other claims against Hormel. The dispute stemmed from a partnership the two companies had to make and market pre-cooked bacon. Unitherm claims that it created a process for making a pre-cooked bacon product that looked like pan-cooked bacon, a technology that it shared with Hormel as part of the companies' partnership. Some time later, Hormel ended the partnership but soon was making pre-cooked bacon on another company's equipment that used essentially Unitherm's own processes, according to the complaint. But because Unitherm had filed for a patent in the meantime, explaining the technology in detail in public records, its claim that trade secrets had been misappropriated was invalid, and the federal judge dismissed that part of the lawsuit.

To learn more about intellectual property rights and what that can mean to your business interests, contact the Goosmann Law Firm at info@goosmannlaw.com or (712)-226-4000.

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