Simplot files federal lawsuit over twisted potato design

These photos are included in Simplot’s complaint of patent infringement against McCain Foods.
These photos are included in Simplot’s complaint of patent infringement against McCain Foods.

Idaho potato giant J.R. Simplot Co. has its taters in a twist and has filed a federal lawsuit against McCain Foods, claiming the company copied its idea for a twisty french fry it calls the Sidewinder, the Times-News reports.

Simplot wants the court to award three times actual damages, with the amount to be proven at trial, to compensate for “willful” patent infringement plus interest. It also wants a permanent injunction to keep Illinois-based McCain from further infringement.

“McCain’s conduct has caused and will cause great and irreparable harm to Simplot in an amount which cannot be adequately remedied by money damages, leaving Simplot with no adequate remedy at law,” Simplot attorneys wrote in the complaint.

A summons for McCain was filed Tuesday, and the company has 21 days from the time the company receives it to file an answer. Neither company responded to requests from the Times-News for comment on the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court.

McCain and Simplot are two of three major companies competing in the U.S. french fries and frozen potato market.

In 2013, Simplot introduced Sidewinder fries with a distinctive twist design. They were an “overnight success,” attorneys said.

The company reconfigured its production lines and added hardware to its Caldwell facility to keep up with consumer demand for the product, the suit said.

In the lawsuit, Simplot says its growth is linked to its innovation and experience, and that it invests heavily to protect its intellectual property. Sidewinders were invented as an alternative to traditionally shaped fries and are offered in several varieties including craft beer batter, seasoned crisps and smokey barbecue.

The company says it has a patent covering the “ornamental features” of the product.

The lawsuit contends McCain copied Simplot with its own “Twisted Potato” in an attempt to “piggyback” off of Simplot’s investment “and to ride the coattails of Simplot’s success.”

In June, McCain began advertising, promoting and offering its “Twisted Potato” products for sale in the U.S. in an effort to “unfairly compete” against the company and cut into Simplot’s 100 percent share of the Sidewinders market, the suit says.

The Twisted Potato fries are “deceptively and confusing similar” to Simplot’s fries, and customers are “likely to confuse the products and their sources of origin,” according to the suit.

J.R. “Jack” Simplot started the Simplot company in 1929 in Declo. The company grew from one-man farming operations to one of the largest privately owned agribusiness companies in the world. It is now headquartered in Boise.