Lawsuit brought over crib bumpers
- Article by: WENDY LEE
- Star Tribune
- October 1, 2010 - 9:03 PM
The Eagan-based small business BreathableBaby is suing its much larger competitor Summer Infant, accusing it of stealing the idea and marketing behind a popular crib bumper.
Summer Infant tried to acquire BreathableBaby's assets last year but wasn't successful, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota. Then, this spring, Summer Infant launched its own line of crib bumpers called BreatheEasy Baby.
The packaging shows an infant inside a brown crib lined with the product, showing blue arrows indicating the air is circulating so the baby won't be in danger of suffocating. BreathableBaby says the image looks too similar to the one on its own product and could confuse consumers.
"If we don't come against this, they are going to drive us out of business," said Dale Waters, who founded the company with his wife, Susan.
BreathableBaby starting selling its bumper in 2002. The idea for the product came when the couple were looking for safe crib bumpers for their first child, but had trouble finding anything that didn't prevent the child from getting entangled in the crib.
Today, BreathableBaby sells its product online as well as in Babies 'R' Us stores. The company brings in less than $5 million a year in sales and has fewer than 10 employees.
BreathableBaby says its crib bumper stands out from its competition because it is made out of material that allows air to circulate and reduces the risk of suffocation, entanglement and climbing. The product has won the 2008 Seal of Approval from the National Parenting Center and an Award of Excellence from Child Safety House Calls.
"We really are connected with the concerns of parents. We're not industry putting product out there," Susan Waters said. "We had an issue with our own child, and we are committed to helping others keep their babies safe."
This is the second lawsuit Breathable Baby has filed against competing companies. Breathable Baby said it sued a Canadian company for copying its product and last year, and the other business backed off.
In its latest lawsuit, BreathableBaby is asking Summer Infant to pay for damages and litigation costs. BreathableBaby is requesting that Summer Infant stop infringing on its patent and trademark and from using any mark or names too similar to BreathableBaby.
George John, chairman of the Marketing Department at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, said defending intellectual property rights is important for small companies that want to thwart more attempts to copy a product. "Essentially if you persistently do not defend it, you're going to end up losing your rights," John said.
Summer Infant did not return calls for comment. The Rhode Island-based business reported nearly $153.5 million in sales last year.
Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712
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