11/07/2013 05:55 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Inventor of foaming hand sanitizer sues former employer

A Mexican immigrant living in Gatineau, Que., who created foaming alcohol hand sanitizer says his former employer induced him to give up his rights as an inventor, then fired him.

Francisco Munoz is suing Deb Group, a British-owned company with offices in several countries. Munoz worked for Deb Group at its plant in Brantford, Ont.

Munoz’s name is on the patent as inventor along with his wife, Maria Teresa, and a friend.

Munoz said he was told to sign documents in 2005 and 2007 while working at Deb, only to learn later he had transferred his rights as an inventor to Deb Group.  

“The defendant pressured Mr. Munoz using undue influence,” according to his statement of claim.

Deb Group “only provided the plaintiff with the signature page of the purported 2007 assignment to sign, and advised him that it was a document that needed to be signed as part of his employment,” the claim adds.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Munoz paid $2 for worldwide rights to invention

Deb Group declined to discuss the lawsuit, but in a statement of defence filed in Ontario Superior Court, Deb said Munoz was paid $2 for the worldwide rights to the invention and never expected to receive more. 

The statement of defence claims Munoz understood, or should have understood, what he was signing.

“Mr. Munoz’s carelessness in failing to take the simple precaution of ascertaining the nature, in fact and law, of the document put before him prior to ... signing the document precludes Mr. Munoz from disowning his signature.”

Both sides agree the day after Deb Group obtained the last signature giving it control of the patent, Munoz was dismissed.

“I didn't understand what was going on,” Munoz said. ”I was a victim of ignorance, but how I will know something I was not prepared to know? I never had a previous experience like that. Since they fired me in 2007 I’ve been unable to find a job. I tried but it’s not easy and every day it's harder because I'm not getting younger. So it's been very rough on me, what happened."

Under Canadian law, a patent belongs to the inventor and not to his employer, unless the employee is specifically hired to invent and has a contract spelling that out, said Ottawa labour lawyer Paul Champ.

Deb files motion calling on Munoz to post $160,000 bond 

“It’s one of the first things you learn in law school, that every contract needs to have some value back and forth. And here Mr. Munoz signed this document without any compensation. He continued to get the same level of salary and the same level of benefits, and there was no extra compensation to him, so those are often good grounds for setting a contract aside,” Champ said.

Deb Group has filed a motion calling for Munoz to post a bond for almost $160,000, intended to cover Deb’s legal expenses should his lawsuit fail. 

Munoz said he doesn’t have the money to meet the bond and he will have to drop his lawsuit if the motion is upheld.

A ruling on Deb’s motion is expected as early as December.