Controversy Over Pepsi Cola's Secret Formula

As odd as this might sound, I have never even tasted Pepsi or Coke.  However, that doesn’t make the recent case involving Pepsi’s secret formula interesting to me, as an estate planning attorney.

Apparently, the heirs of Richard John Ritchie, who is credited with reformulating Pepsi-Cola in 1931, filed a lawsuit against PepsiCo Inc. for the right to share (and sell) Mr. Ritchie’s “extraordinary life story’’ with “historians, collectors, journalists and television and film producers.’’  That should also include the right to circulate (and maybe sell) historic documents in the family’s possession, including one from 1941 spelling out Mr. Ritchie’s recipe for Pepsi-Cola.

Apparently, after Mr. Ritchie died in 1985, the documents were passed to his wife and then to a son, Richard James Ritchie, who kept them in boxes in his basement in Pennsylvania before finally looking through them in 2008.  Then, realizing what he had uncovered, he contacted PepsiCo, which warned him that any disclosure about its cola formula would violate trade secrets.

Many know that Coca-Cola’s secret formula is famously locked inside a vault in the company’s museum in Atlanta.  It was moved there last December from a vault at a nearby SunTrust Bank, where it had been kept for 86 years, to mark the Coca-Cola’s 125th anniversary.

The lawsuit alleges that there isn’t any evidence that Mr. Ritchie transferred his intellectual property rights to the Pepsi-Cola.  Instead, when Mr. Ritchie’s formula was finally written down in a 1941 document, he kept a duplicate original of the document.  As argued in the lawsuit, the 1941 document “is of tremendous historical (and probably monetary) value and of interest to scholars and the general public as a remarkable artifact of American commercial history.’’

For those who are interested, the civil case is Joan Ritchie Silleck, the estate of Richard James Ritchie, and Robert Ritchie v. PepsiCo Inc.

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