A Federal Prisoner is Suing Taco Bell for Stealing His Idea for the Doritos Locos Taco

You've no doubt spent the 14 months since Doritos Locos Tacos were introduced wondering how Taco Bell came up with the brilliant idea of turning the popular chips into popular taco shells. If you just assumed this was the work of a dedicated, and probably high, Yum Brands food scientist, Gary Cole is here to tell you that you're wrong.

To be accurate, Cole isn't here exactly. He's in the super-max prison in Florence, Colorado.

Cole's home is become famous for housing convicted terrorists, including Zacarias Moussaoui, shoe bomber Richard Reid and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Cole's crime isn't quite as high-profile. He's nearing the end of a 25-year prison sentence for "delaying interstate commerce, conspiring to do so, and using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence."

But that's not the issue at hand. What's important here is that Cole claims that he, and not Taco Bell, invented Doritos Locos tacos. So he filed a federal lawsuit yesterday in Dallas alleging that the fast food chain, along with Pepsi, Plano-based Frito Lay and Taco Bell parent Yum Brands, stole his idea.

As proof, Cole offers a notarized document he mailed to his attorney in 2006. It's a list of nine products that Cole lays claim to. Most of them fall under an imagined "Divas and Ballers" brand: hot sauce, alcohol, "health mix," body oils, et cetera. Ignore all those. The key item on the list is No. 2: "Tacos (sic) shells of all flavors (made of Doritos)"

See also Fine, Taco Bell is Going to Release the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos, OK?

Six years later, when he came across pieces in Time and USA Today describing the introduction of Doritos Locos Tacos, he concluded that his idea must have been stolen through the mail. He wrote to the FBI demanding an investigation. To the IRS he wrote "a check was made out to a person for a large amount by Taco Bell, Frito Lay, and Pepsi Co. Inc. for an idea or invention that was submitted to them by theft and fraud," going on to ask for "the person, the name, address, the amount of the check, how much taxes paid on the check." He also sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Taco Bell calling for the release of any and all documents related to the invention of the Doritos Locos Tacos.

Cole received no response, hence his decision to sue. He is representing himself in the case, but court filings indicate that he did attempt to enlist the help of a Denver law firm. He doesn't include the letter he sent them, which is a shame, because their response suggests it was incredible:

Dear Gary:

Thanks for your April 25th letter, which we received on May 3. By now you should have received the taco documents. Hopefully, the stress they caused will be relieved.

Do not "put a knife" to the staff. That won't do you, or us, any good. I understand your frustration, but we're working on the retaliation issue and would ask that you leave it in our hands.

Cole's frustration is indeed understandable. He spent countless hours in his prison cell dreaming up the Doritos taco shell, and now someone else is cashing in. That's a tough lesson to learn, but Cole should console himself with the thought that he has bestowed a tasty gift upon humanity.