In its answer to a complaint filed by ConAgra in March, ADM denied all of the allegations and insisted that it “does not infringe and has not infringed any valid claim” of the patent in question.
Among other possible defense strategies, ADM also alleged that the patent in question was invalid and that ConAgra was “barred by the doctrines of unclean hands” - a legal term to indicate that your opponent is acting unethically or in bad faith.
The court has now set up a conference call scheduled for June 20 at which all parties can discuss the next steps in the case or consider mediation or other methods of alternative dispute resolution.
ConAgra 'sought to develop refined flour capable of meeting the definition of whole wheat flour'
In its complaint, filed in a US district court in Kansas, ConAgra Foods Food Ingredients Company claims ADM’s Kansas Diamond White Whole Wheat Flour infringes a patent it was awarded on September 13, 2011.
The patent, US #8,017,172 is entitled ‘Whole Grain Flour and Products Including the Same’, and covers refined flour capable of meeting the definition of ‘whole wheat flour’.
It says: “In the late 1990s, ConAgra’s leading food scientists and grain millers attempted to develop nutritious, high fiber whole wheat food products with the palatable appeal and popularity of refined, or white, flour that draw a large segment of ConAgra’s customers.”
Years of testing, development and technological improvement
It adds: “Further, ConAgra sought to develop refined flour capable of meeting the definition of ‘whole wheat flour’.
“Through years of testing, development, and technological improvement of its state-of-the-art flour mills, ConAgra succeeded in milling a whole grain not only retaining its traditional nutrients and benefits, but also containing the texture, taste, and finished baked qualities of refined flour.
“To preserve this new innovation… ConAgra promptly sought patent protection.”
While ConAgra had emailed ADM on September 22, 2011 informing it of the ‘172 patent and offering to engage in a licensing arrangement, ADM had continued to sell white whole wheat products that infringed the patent, says the complaint.
A light colored yet fiber and protein rich flour
ConAgra, which is represented by legal firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP, is seeking a jury trial, damages and an injunction to prevent ADM from selling the allegedly infringing products.
According to ADM’s website, Kansas Diamond White Whole Wheat Flour is prepared by “carefully selecting and milling hard white wheats to ensure that the process yields a light-colored, yet fiber- and protein-rich flour with microfine particles that produce a smooth, pleasing mouth feel”.
The resulting product conforms to US Standard of Identity for whole wheat flour.