Butt Foods faces patent infringement challenge

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Butt foods Food Patent Catering

The makers of the innovative bread bowls featured in last month’s Food Manufacture face a legal challenge from an inventor who claims he came up...

The makers of the innovative bread bowls featured in last month’s Food Manufacture​ face a legal challenge from an inventor who claims he came up with the same concept 15 years ago.

Stuart Hepworth set up a company called Crusty Crock Pots Ltd in the 1990s to sell his edible double crusted ‘Crusty Crock Pots’ and related products. He claims Butt Foods’ edible bread bowls, which are sturdy enough to hold soup or a curry but soft enough to eat, infringe his design patent.

The Crock Pots were stocked by Safeway with various fillings under the retailer’s own label. They were “not a roaring success in retail”, and were delisted after just a few months on shelf, admitted Hepworth. “But we did a lot of business with the catering trade.”

Production of the pots was contracted out to Barnsley-based Fosters Bakery, he said.

“We also started talking to an Indian food manufacturer about developing new products but due to competing business pressures, we put Crock Pots on the back burner."

When he first heard that Butt Foods was launching bread bowls, he contacted the firm, concerned that his patents were being infringed. “It was just really galling to see what looked like exactly the same product getting all this publicity when I had spent a lot of time and money protecting my intellectual property,” said Hepworth.

He added: “At first, I called up Butt Foods and everything was very amicable. We exchanged correspondence and they said they were looking into it, so I decided to hold off taking legal action. However, I’m still waiting for an explanation and I’m starting to lose my patience.

“My solicitor is now preparing a formal letter to Butt Foods claiming they have infringed my design patent. I will be very interested to hear what they have to say because their product certainly looks exactly the same as mine.

Protection of the registered design has been renewed until October 2008.

John Foster, md at Fosters Bakery, said: “Stuart Hepworth is right about his prior intellectual property. We did indeed make these bread bowls (called crock pots) for Stuart’s company “Crusty Crock Pots.” He brought the concept to us many years ago and we made them for him for a number of years. We made them under “strict licence” - he’s an inventor and makes his money from, amongst other things, royalties on his many inventions.

“The product did sell for several months in Safeway in a pack with a pouch of soup/stew made by the Sauce Company at Scunthorpe - who were for the Safeway contract, our customer/delivery point. The product has also sold in many other places in food service too.”

Butt Foods md David Williams said: "Our patent and trade mark attorney has advised us that we are not infringing any registered design patents."

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