WILMINGTON, Del. – David Howard, creator of a process for producing precooked bacon slices in a spiral oven, recently filed a lawsuit against Hormel Foods Corp. for allegedly infringing on his patent for a hybrid bacon cooking system.
Howard currently is president of HIP Inc. in Dallas, Texas. But as the founder and CEO of Unitherm Food Systems, he sued Hormel in the US District Court for the District of Minnesota for breach of contract in 2014. Hormel filed a counterclaim. In 2016 a judge dismissed the claims and counterclaims, and an appeals court affirmed that ruling. Marlen International Inc. acquired Unitherm Food Systems in 2017.
Howard now is suing Hormel in the US District Court for the District of Delaware. The complaint states that “…Through error, the “inventors” currently named in the ’498 Patent are Brian J. Srsen, Richard M. Herreid, James E. Mino, and Brian E. Hendrickson. At present, Defendant Hormel Foods Corporation is the owner of record of the ’498 Patent...
“The true and sole inventor of all the subject matter claimed in the ’498 Patent is Plaintiff’s president, David Howard. Through error, David Howard was omitted as the sole inventor of the ’498 Patent.”
Court documents state that Howard developed a process for producing precooked bacon in which bacon slices enter a spiral oven at a lower inlet and then “spiral” around the cooking chamber to an upper outlet. Superheated steam replaces air in the oven’s cooking chamber, which creates a “substantially oxygen-free environment” that helps the bacon achieve pan-fried quality. Howard filed for a patent in February 2012 and it was granted on Dec. 6, 2016. Unitherm also received a European patent for the same process in December 2012.
Before Howard filed the patent, however, Howard approached Hormel to gauge interest in his bacon cooking system. In 2007, Unitherm and Hormel entered into a joint development agreement. Hormel and Unitherm conducted tests for cooking bacon in a mini-test spiral oven owned by Unitherm and which Hormel leased in July 2008 to continue work on development of a spiral oven using superheated steam to cook bacon. Hormel ended the joint development agreement in April 2010 but had purchased the test oven before terminating that agreement, according to court documents. But Hormel “…did not inform Plaintiff that Hormel intended to continue to use the Unitherm Mini Spiral Oven and the hybrid process to cook bacon.
“Rather, Hormel intentionally led Plaintiff falsely to believe that Hormel would not be using the Unitherm process, in any form, or the Unitherm Mini Spiral Oven to cook bacon.” Additionally, Hormel filed for a provisional patent for the bacon cooking system. Howard claims that Hormel and Osceola Food LLC have been producing precooked bacon since 2014 using his process.
Howard is seeking to regain control of the technology. He wants the patent on the hybrid bacon oven transferred to him in addition to a permanent injunction against Hormel and other defendants named in the lawsuit. He also is seeking enhanced damages and attorney’s fees.