A dispute over the invention of a "rapidly reloading" communion host dispenser made its way into U.S. District Court in Minnesota on Thursday.
Nu-Life Products, a Minnesota-based company, manufactures the item, which comes equipped with "Quad-Rotator Technology" designed to fit 400 communion hosts.
The company alleges that a former employee misappropriated trade secrets by trying to sell similar products, including the "Communalabra Germ-Free Communion Host Dispensing System." Nu-Life Products is seeking over $75,000 in damages and has requested a jury trial.
The former employee, Douglas Henricksen, described the company as "horrific" and denied the allegations.
"That is so bogus," Henricksen said. "There's no trade secret information. There's nothing, zero. They're doing this because they owe me a lot of money."
Henricksen, of New Richmond, Wis., said he was hired about three years ago to help market the item, but quickly realized that the product design would never work.
"They were using mechanical springs that would've cost $2.50 a spring, and it would have been noisy," he said. "In communion, you have to have something that's really silent. It's a sacred event."
Henricksen said he redesigned the product, wrote a business plan, and "did virtually everything" to make the business profitable. Without his involvement, he said, the company would have never made a single sale.
"You can't just have something out there like a Pez dispenser," he said. "It's got to be done right or it's not going to be well accepted."
Henricksen said he worked without pay, sometimes up to 16 hours a day, before being fired about a year and a half ago. At the time of his firing, he said the business was about to launch the product and had met with potential investors.
After he lost his job, Henricksen said he had a brief, unsuccessful stint as a used car salesman, but was unable to find a decent job, despite 25 years of engineering and marketing experience.
Over the past few months, he has been working on plans for a different dispenser that could work with any size of communion host.
"I think they're really worried because if I do this, they couldn't compete with it," he said. "It would really destroy their company."
An attorney for Nu-Life Products did not immediately return calls for comment.