When it comes to inventions and product patents, it can be a dog-eat-dog world.
Such is the case in a pending lawsuit filed against a toy inventor by the Edina dog-supply company he helped run, which claims he is infringing on their patents and depriving them of patenting another product.
Inventor A.J. Dewey, who now lives in Washington state, calls the suit “frivolous.” He and his Seattle company Animaganza are countersuing the Edina company and its majority owner to clear up who owns what once and for all.
“I don’t see the validity to their suit,” said Dewey, Animaganza’s chief design officer. “It’s costing a lot of time my company doesn’t want to spend focusing on their case.”
Before Animaganza, Dewey co-founded and was vice president of the Edina company, called Pawabunga. The company filed the federal lawsuit against him, Animaganza and a sister company called Himalayan Corp. in October.
A pretrial hearing of the case is set for Tuesday in Minneapolis.
According to court documents, while at Pawabunga Dewey invented a rubber wrap that can hold a dog chew. Pawabunga, whose officials declined to comment, was issued two patents for the product.
According to the suit, Dewey created another product while at the company: a kerchief that goes around a dog’s neck and expands to hold water or food. Pawabunga applied for a patent for the Bandana Bowl but missed a reply deadline, and Dewey held onto the rights.
Pawabunga’s complaint states that Dewey stopped coming to work around November 2014 even though his employment hadn’t been terminated. Dewey disputed that claim in an interview Monday, saying that Pawabunga forced him out by changing his e-mail, cutting off access to its financial records and taking away his keys. His attorney, Nathan Sellers, said it all came as a surprise to Dewey.
“I was made absolutely blind to the operations of Pawabunga,” Dewey said.
Dewey moved from Minnesota to Washington to form Animaganza in early 2015. His new company sells pet products, including the AnimaTwist, an interlocking plastic toy that can also hold a chew inside. The Pawabunga lawsuit alleges that Animaganza is infringing its patents by selling AnimaTwist products.
Dewey said the AnimaTwist product does not meet any of the technical details found in the Pawabunga patents.
“We actually know it doesn’t. I was the inventor of both products,” Dewey said. “They are extremely different products, extremely different materials, extremely different functions.”
The lawsuit claims Dewey breached his contract and that keeping the rights to the Bandana Bowl and reviving its patent application was “willful, intentional, malicious, and with the intent of depriving Pawabunga of its valuable property.”
Pawabunga is asking for at least $375,000 in damages, as well as a court order to assign it rights and ownership of the Bandana Bowl invention.
Dewey, Animaganza and Himalayan Corp. disputed the allegations in a response filed in court. They state Dewey invented the Bandana Bowl before his time with the Edina company and that they have never made or marketed it.
Dewey said if he hadn’t revived the patent application, the product would have been public domain and his intellectual property rights would have expired.
The defendants countersued Pawabunga and its owner, Mark McCary, for unjust enrichment in licensing the Bandana Bowl rights to a third party, which made and distributed the product. They are asking for unspecified damages exceeding $75,000 and for the court to declare that Animaganza owns the Bandana Bowl invention.
Dewey designed children’s products before working in the pet industry, according to the Animaganza website.
The Star Tribune called a dozen retail stores but could not confirm whether any in Minnesota carry the Bandana Bowl, AnimaTwist or the Pawabunga chew toy. The Bandana Bowl and AnimaTwist can be bought online.
A 2014 article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal said Pawabunga had five employees and distribution deals with Target and other retailers at the time.
“As far as I know, [Pawabunga] doesn’t really exist anymore,” Sellers said. “I think it’s basically a shell right now.”