A popular Utah shaved ice company is suing a Canadian competitor, alleging that the business has tried to cut in on its profits by stealing the design of its “sweet snow” machines.
Snowie, in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court, accuses Elite Group Inc., and its subsets based in Montreal, of infringing on its 2003 and 2005 patents for the ice shaver it calls “Little Snowie” that’s made for people to use in their homes. And, as a result, it adds, it has lost money and customers.
“I’ve been doing shaved ice and trying to make shavers for about 30 years. It’s been very hard, and I prototyped this particular shaver and the way it works,” said Snowie’s founder Carl Rupp in a phone call with The Salt Lake Tribune. “I’m defending my hard-earned property, what I spent years of my life on trying to invent.”
Rupp said his shelves are lined with prototypes of the many not-quite-right attempts he made at designing a shaved ice machine. On a few of them the motor was too small. On others the ice wasn’t being shaved thin enough to absorb the flavored syrup. But after 15 years of tinkering and nearly $1 million dollars spent on materials and patents, he finally got it to work.
He believes the Canadian company looked at his finished model and copied it. He said their “Big Freeze Hawaiian Ice Shaver and Snow Cone Maker” design uses the same size of wheel and the same type of blade. The parts, too, he added, are all in the same place as the one he created with only minor alterations.
“They stepped all over my patents and used all my ideas,” Rupp added.
Elite Group Inc. did not immediately return The Tribune’s request for comment Wednesday evening.
The lawsuit calls Snowie “an innovator in the shaved ice confection industry.” And the company has, for the last few decades been a top seller of the sweet frozen treat in Utah.
Rupp, now 61, started the company in 1979 along with his brother Gordon and other extended family. They sell ice shavers and nearly 100 flavored syrups. It’s not a franchise, though people can buy kiosks to start summertime stands where customers can grab a cup of the soft, icy confection. Currently, there are 6,000 of those.
Snowie is asking the U.S. District Court to find that the Canadian company, which sells machines in the United States, stole its “technology and innovative style” and should repay the Utah business for those losses.
“What really bothers me is that somebody comes along and puts their eyeballs on what I’ve worked 15 years to create from nothing and copies it,” Rupp said. With the lawsuit, he added, “I hate to do it. It’s just one more way to lose a lot of money. But, really, I have no choice.”
Elite Group Inc., according to a Bloomberg profile, has been operating since 2002 and, along with its subsidiaries, sells home appliances.