Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Inventor wins $1m in patent scrap over clever champagne opener

Bryce Stewart, a long-time inventor, spent eight years perfecting a opener, which removes the cork, wire restraint and foil wrapping virtually intact from a champagne bottle. Photo / Ed Young
Bryce Stewart, a long-time inventor, spent eight years perfecting a opener, which removes the cork, wire restraint and foil wrapping virtually intact from a champagne bottle. Photo / Ed Young

A Kiwi inventor has been awarded more than $1 million in damages after a court ruled an American company copied his patented champagne bottle opener.

Bryce Stewart, a long-time inventor, spent eight years perfecting a opener, which removes the cork, wire restraint and foil wrapping virtually intact from a champagne bottle.

United States company Franmara offered the 71-year-old US$2500 ($3050) for the licence in 2003, but when rebuffed, later exactly copied the design and sold it online.

In the High Court at Auckland, Justice Kit Toogood ordered Franmara to pay Mr Stewart US$864,500 in damages, plus interest and court costs.

It was estimated up to 440,000 of the openers could be sold yearly.

Mr Stewart, who now lives in Australia, patented the "Stopper Removing Tool" in New Zealand and the United States in 2003.

Franmara approached him about marketing the opener and agreed to a confidentiality agreement which barred them from copying or reproducing the invention without permission.

The company's offer of US$2500 for the licence was turned down, and Mr Stewart instead entered into a distribution deal with a Chinese company, Zhejiang Zhogrun Tools.

Mr Stewart claimed that in 2006, two years after the deal was struck, he learned Franmara had tried to order the manufacture of 2000 openers identical to his from Zhejiang's factories.

He later realised Franmara had been advertising a "Champagne Xpress" bottle opener on its website.

Justice Toogood found Franmara had sold the opener since 2005 until at least last May, despite Mr Stewart sending letters warning the company it was infringing on his patents.

"In design, shape, style and operation, the defendant's bottle opener is a replication of the invention," Justice Toogood wrote in an interim judgment released this week.

"The evidence establishes to my satisfaction that the defendant has been guilty of a wilful breach of the agreement."

After Mr Stewart ended his contract with Zhejiang in 2007 because of manufacturing issues, he contacted Chinese authorities to help stop further copying of his invention.

Authorities raided Zhejiang's factories and broke the moulds it held for Mr Stewart's bottle opener.

Franmara, which failed to defend the High Court hearing, was found to have infringed Mr Stewart's New Zealand patent because online distribution occurs in countries with access to the internet.

The claimed breach of his American patent is yet to be decided.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 31 Aug 2014 20:02:23 Processing Time: 463ms