The daughter and son of Richard Ritchie say PepsiCo Inc. is interfering with their ability to market or sell the rights of their father's life story and documents detailing his 1931 soda formula. The suit seeks a declaration that their disclosure of the documents would be protected by First Amendment rights and wouldn't be considered a trade secret violation.
"The original formulas of iconic beverages and the lore that surrounds their genesis and provenance are of great interest to the public," the suit states.
In a lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court, Joan Ritchie Silleck and Robert Ritchie also seek unspecified damages for "unjustified and improper acts that have interfered" with their rights regarding their father's documents.
A representative for PepsiCo said the Purchase, N.Y., company does not comment on pending litigation. Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not immediately return calls for comment.
According to PepsiCo's website, the company's namesake cola was created in the late 1890s by Caleb Bradham, a pharmacist from North Carolina. The beverage was named it for its ingredients of pepsin and cola nuts; Bradham lost the company in bankruptcy after World War I.
The suit filed on Friday says that the soda became a commercial success after Ritchie reformulated it in 1931. It states that Ritchie was working on candy formulas at a company called Loft Inc. at the time when the company president, Charles Guth, bought the bankrupt Pepsi-Cola Co.
Guth wasn't satisfied with the Pepsi flavour and asked Ritchie to come up with a better tasting formula, which became a commercial hit by 1934, according to the lawsuit.
In 1941, the suit says Ritchie provided the then-president of Pepsi with a copy of his "invention"; that duplicate was kept in a bank vault by the company. Pepsi was aware that Ritchie kept the original document for himself, according to the suit.
Ritchie died in 1985; the documents weren't discovered in his boxes by his heirs until 2008. After a family member notified a PepsiCo historian of the documents, a company representative visited the home to view the materials. The company subsequently demanded the return of the documents and said any disclosure of them would be a misappropriation of a Pepsi trade secret, according to the suit.
The suit claims that PepsiCo has asserted that the documents are company property and deserve trade secret protection and that they "never be made public."