Today's story of patent insanity comes to us courtesy of Wysong, a small natural pet foods company that came up with a method to put probiotics
in foods in the early 80s. The company used the technique to sell pet food biscuits that supposedly have certain health benefits. As its products became more popular, the company saw copycats come into the market, but figured it helped everyone (including the pets), and there was nothing wrong with that. Then... fifteen years later, Nestle, the owner of Purina, happened to patent the very same process and, a few years later, sued Wysong, demanding royalties all the way back to when it got its patent
. Wysong's owners responded, pointing out that their product had been on the market since long before Nestle's patent... to which Nestle responded with a threat to sue Wysong in federal court. Knowing Wysong probably didn't have the millions of dollars it would take to fight a patent lawsuit, Nestle tried to pressure them to just give in and settle right away. The company is fighting back (and has been able to stop Nestle from getting an identical patent in Europe thanks to its prior art), but it's a costly battle.
The patent system defenders who are always quick to comment on this site like to talk about how they're really defenders of "small inventors" against evil "big businesses" who are trying to steal their work. I'm curious what they think about this case, where the exact opposite is happening?