LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A company affiliated with the University of Nebraska has filed a lawsuit alleging a Mexican tortilla maker is infringing on a patent two university researchers received in 2002.
The Lincoln Journal Star reports that NUtech Ventures is suing Gruma Corp., which owns the Mission Foods and Azteca Milling tortilla brands.
NUtech, a nonprofit that works to commercialize the university's research, says Gruma filed several patent applications between October 2004 and June 2007 that show it is violating NU's patent.
At the heart of the dispute is a more efficient process to produce flour from grains such as corn. The process uses a solution containing what's called a protease enzyme. It reduces the amount of corn solids lost and the amount of wastewater produced, so it helps lower the cost of converting corn into flour and dough.
Gruma is based in Monterrey, Mexico. It also operates 22 U.S. plants that manufacture and distribute packaged corn and wheat tortillas and six plants that manufacture and distribute corn flour.
Gruma officials did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.
NUtech said Gruma's own patent applications mention the university's patent, so it's clear the company was aware of it.
"Defendants' infringement of the (university's) patent has been and continues to be willful and deliberate, and in reckless disregard of NUtech's patent rights," the nonprofit said in its lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges Gruma's tortilla companies have been using the university's patented process for preparing grains without permission. NUtech Ventures is seeking damages for lost royalties and a court order that would force Gruma to stop violating the patent.