Nespresso-rival coffee pods seized in France

* Nestle said it initiated evidence collection in France

* Ethical Coffee Co confirms capsules have been seized

* Nestle recently announced it was suing US rival Sara Lee

ZURICH, June 24 (Reuters) - French authorities have seized coffee capsules made by Ethical Coffee Co at the request of Nestle SA NESN.VX as the Swiss-based foods group steps up efforts to protect its Nespresso brand.

Jean-Paul Gaillard, chief executive of Swiss-based Ethical Coffee, said on Thursday a small number of coffee capsules had been taken from two of its suppliers in France on Tuesday as Nestle seeks to show they infringe its patents.

Nestle is taking steps to stave off competition to its top-selling Nespresso products and earlier this month launched a lawsuit against U.S. food group Sara Lee SLE.N in France for patent infringement. [ID:nLDE65E0QL]

“We have initiated evidence collection proceedings in France in connection with patent infringement of our Nespresso coffee system,” a Nestle spokesman said in an e-mail, adding it was premature to name the parties involved.

Sara Lee and Ethical Coffee both make coffee pods that are compatible with Nestle’s Nespresso machines, which allow coffee lovers to brew individual cups of coffee in special machines.

Gaillard, who headed Nespresso when it was a start-up in the early 90s, said he was convinced his capsules did not infringe Nestle’s patents.

The premium coffee product, which has been growing at double-digit percentage rates, is Nestle’s fastest-growing “billionaire brand”, generating 2.77 billion Swiss francs ($2.5 billion) sales in 2009. (Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz and Pascal Schmuck; Editing by David Holmes) ($1=1.104 Swiss Franc)