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California sweetener maker accused of infringing on patent

It sounds like a dream come true. Stevia is a natural product that serves as a sweetener and sugar substitute - and it has no calories. A California stevia supplier is squaring off against a competitor in a lawsuit that will be heard in a federal court north of San Diego.

The intellectual property dispute will go before a jury in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California in Santa Ana.

Chicago's PureCircle USA, Inc. accuses California's SweeGen, Inc. of infringing on a patent that involves the sweetener.

SweeGen, of Rancho Santa Margarita (about two hours north of San Diego in Orange County), has 13 patents and more than 130 patent applications worldwide regarding stevia and processes used to extract the sweetener.

"SweeGen will defend and protect its strong I.P. (intellectual property) position, with deepest respect to innovative intellectual property for the benefit of consumers globally," the company said in a released statement.

According to its lawsuit, PureCircle owns or co-owns 77 U.S. patents.

The patent at the heart of the dispute involves more cost-effective production of Reb M (found in the stevia leaf) that can reduce sugar in beverages and other food items.

PureCircle said in its lawsuit that its competitor has "committed acts of infringement, both directly and indirectly, within this district and the state of California" by selling and promoting products that infringe on its stevia-related patent.

Businesses and individuals who want to protect their IP and financial interests should speak with an attorney experienced in intellectual property litigation.

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