Suit lobs curve in snowball fight

Date: Jul 05, 2011

Suit lobs curve in snowball fight

The sweet, shaved-ice delight known as the snowball, much like the racketeering allegation, is a time-honored New Orleans tradition.

Melding the two may seem a bit rich, but a group of manufacturers, suppliers and a local snowball shop have achieved just that in a federal lawsuit filed last week. They accuse a supplier of syrups and ice-shaving machines of a heavy-handed pattern of lying about patents and laying false claim to some beloved snowball flavors.

At issue is the chilling effect of SnoWizard Inc.'s claims on flavors such as Orchid Cream Vanilla and White Chocolate & Chips, among others, along with patent claims over the snowball machines themselves.

SnoWizard and its owner, Ronald Sciortino, are accused in the lawsuit of "attempting to manipulate the snowball market through a scheme to assert exclusive monopoly rights to sell products into that market..."

It's the latest missile in a snowball fight that now spans four decades and five federal lawsuits. But this bite tastes different: The lawsuit accuses Sciortino and the company of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, Act, or RICO, a law created by Congress in 1970 largely to melt the Mafia.

Eight companies -- including Plum Street Snoball, Raggs Supply, Special T Ice Co. and Parasol Flavors -- claim SnoWizard has lied in applications to federal and state trademark and patent offices, on its Web site and in cease-and-desist orders, in violation of the RICO Act's mail and wire fraud statutes.

SnoWizard, on River Road, has aggressively sought trademarks for about 20 snowball flavor names, according to the lawsuit. The company claims it concocted them in some cases more than a half-century ago and allowed snowball vendors to use them.

It's a high-stakes, what's-in-a-name gambit over syrup on ice. The argument isn't over taste combos, but the popularity and tradition of flavors on the menu.

Plum Street Snoballs owner Donna Black said SnoWizard is trying to strip her Carrollton area corner store of its "signature flavor" -- Orchid Cream Vanilla -- which she said she adopted 32 years ago when she bought the shop and made it her own. The lawsuit, she said, is a necessary defense against an assault on her business, which sells nothing but snowballs.

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