Coffee capsules from the brand "Nespresso" owned by Swiss food giant Nestle are displayed during the annual shareholders meeting in Lausanne April 15, 2010.
updated 6/15/2010 7:00:37 PM ET 2010-06-15T23:00:37

Nestle SA has launched a patent infringement lawsuit against U.S. rival Sara Lee Corp. over a product that it says unfairly uses its popular capsule-based Nespresso coffee machines, the Swiss food giant said Tuesday.

Nestle said it is suing Sara Lee in France, where the U.S. company recently launched its own coffee capsules — L'Or Espresso — that are compatible with Nestle's Nespresso coffee makers.

The Swiss company said it was acting "to defend our intellectual property rights."

"Due to ongoing legal proceedings, we are unable to make any further comment at this stage," Nestle said in a statement.

A spokesman for Sara Lee in Europe said the company "is confident that our product complies with all legal and regulatory requirements."

Sara Lee, based in Downers Grove, Illinois, has sold 12 million of its L'Or Espresso capsules in France since the product was launched here two months ago, company spokesman Ernesto Duran said.

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