The Associated Press
As Paducah, Ky.-based Dippin' Dots prepares to celebrate 15 years in business and show off an expansion to franchisers, the ice-cream maker is embroiled in a trademark case that will determine if its founder's patent is valid.
Curt Jones, a research microbiologist and cryogenics expert, started the company in 1988 after perfecting the process of making tiny balls of ice cream in his garage in Grand Chain, Ill.
Two competitors who claim the patent is invalid are pressing antitrust allegations against Dippin' Dots in federal court in Dallas.
The competitors - a former Dippin' Dots dealer and another who asked about becoming a dealer - are selling similar products as Frosty Bites and Mini-Melts.
A second trial later will address whether the Dallas-based Mini-Melts manufacturer used Dippin' Dots' trade secrets and similar logos to make and market its own beaded ice cream.
The Mini-Melts firm says it is lawfully competing.
The trademark case comes as Dippin' Dots will celebrate 15 years in business this weekend by hosting at least 120 franchisers and showing off a nearly $7 million expansion to keep pace with sales growth, notably in McDonald's restaurants on the West Coast.
Dippin' Dots has retooled its production room, added liquid nitrogen tanks and milk silos and built an 18,000-square-foot freezer-warehouse.
The company is projecting 2003 sales of $38 million. Since starting franchising in early 2000, Dippin' Dots now has about 600 franchisers.
Dippin' Dots products are in about 850 McDonald's restaurants on the West Coast and moving east to Phoenix and Albuquerque, N.M.
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