Bagel Company Sued For Claiming It Had Patented Process For Making 'Brooklyn Water'

from the rolls-with-holes dept

Way back in high school, my after school/weekend job was working in a bagel shop in New York. I learned pretty much all aspects of the bagel business, and ever since then I take bagels pretty seriously -- including the well known fact that you just can't make good New York bagels outside of New York. Often, it's because bagel shops elsewhere take shortcuts in how they cook their bagels, but the key reason is, of course, the water. Making a bagel (properly) involves boiling the dough before cooking the bagel, and for whatever reason, only the water in New York seems to have that perfect quality that makes a bagel into a bagel. Since moving away to California, I've never been able to find anything that comes even close to a New York bagel, and instead have to settle for vastly inferior "rolls with holes," that people around here think are bagels.

So, this next lawsuit caught my attention not just because of the patent issues (the stuff that normally catches my attention), but also because it's about bagels and bagel water. Apparently, there's a company (based in Florida, not Brooklyn), called the Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co., which claims to not just make New York-style bagels, but also to make its own "Brooklyn water," which is necessary for making such bagels, via a "14-step patented process." However, another Florida-based eatery, Mamma Mia's Trattoria is suing OBWB for false patent marking, saying the 14-step patented process is neither 14 steps nor patented:
If you don't recall, we've had a few long and detailed posts about the issue of patent marking, which has gained a lot more interest lately, due to some recent rulings that have greatly expanded the potential damages for falsely claiming something is patented when it is not, while also making it easier for anyone (and we do mean anyone) to sue for false patent marking. In fact, because of this, a whole bunch of new patent marking lawsuits have been filed, leading many to feel the law is being abused. However, this story, if the details in the complaint are accurate, seems like exactly the sort of situation that a false marking law was designed to handle.

Mamma Mia points out how often OBWB points to its "patented process" in its marketing and advertising campaigns, suggesting some sort of proprietary and exclusive advantage. However, Mamma Mia notes, it does not appear that OBWB actually holds any patents whatsoever. Oops. OBWB's claim for its "patented process," apparently comes from the fact that it licensed a bunch of patents from another company -- Aquathin (also from Florida), which makes water filtration systems. When Mamma Mia demanded to know what patents were being used, OBWB listed out seven patents from Aquathin.

The only problem? Four of the seven patents are already expired. Of the remaining patents, two are actually design, not utility, patents (which is more like a trademark, and not what people think of when talking about a patent, as it's about the design of a product not any "process"). That leaves a single utility patent (which is close to expiring), but if you look at that actual patent (5,147,533), it's about how to mount a water purification system under a kitchen sink -- which has nothing to do with the process of purifying the water itself.

So, there doesn't appear to be any actual 14-step-patented process here. There may be a 14-step process, and who knows if it actually creates anything close to Brooklyn water, but the patent claim appears to be highly questionable, at best. Even so, Mamma Mia's complaint notes, OBWB still threatened to sue Mamma Mia for infringing on its (apparently non-existent) "patented process," in offering its own "New York-style" pizza.

If the allegations are true, this does seem like exactly what patent marking lawsuits were designed for: to prevent a company from falsely claiming a monopoly on something it has no right to. Of course, this means that if it's actually possible to create a process to replicate New York water (that doesn't involve, you know, bottling water from New York and shipping it around), and that process is not patented, then perhaps there's still hope that we'll be able to get "real" bagels in California...

Filed Under: bagels, false marking, marking, patent marking, patents, water
Companies: mamma mia, original brooklyn water bagel

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  1. icon
    DannyB (profile), 21 Sep 2010 @ 1:38pm

    Thank God we live in a country . . .

    . . . where you can get a patent on how to mount a water purification system under a kitchen sink.

    Innovation at work. If someone hadn't patented that idea, nobody would have ever thought of a way to mount a water purification system under a kitchen sink.

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