Select Comfort has failed to convince the International Trade Commission that a key competitor violated trade laws concerning two patents on the company’s air mattress technology.
Plymouth-based Select Comfort had argued that a Missouri competitor and two of its subsidiaries had violated trade laws related to a patented air-valve enclosure and adjustable firmness controls.
Select Comfort filed a complaint one year ago with the trade commission (ITC) saying that three related businesses had copied its technology and illegally sold the copycat beds internationally. It asked the ITC to investigate and issue a cease-and-desist order against American National Manufacturing Inc. in Corona, Calif.; the parent company Sizewise Rentals LLC in Kansas City, Mo.; and the sister firm Orlando-based Dires LLC, which does business as Personal Comfort Bed.
But in an initial ruling made public this week, ITC Chief Administrative Law Judge Charles E. Bullock wrote that with regard to the patents, “it is held that no violation of section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 has been found.”
However, while the ruling found that no trade laws had been violated, it did find that one of the two patents in question was technically “infringed” upon. The ITC initial ruling noted that Select Comfort had failed to meet a particular standard with regard to its infringement claims.
Select Comfort spokeswoman Susan Eich said her company continues to believe that at least one of the two patents was violated. Select Comfort plans to file a petition asking that the full trade commission review and alter the judge’s initial decision. There are other factors and technicalities in the case that must be reviewed, she said.
American National President Craig Miller Jr. said in a statement that “We are, of course, extremely pleased with the court’s decision that there were no violations of Section 337. This is especially gratifying because last year, Select Comfort accused us in a news article of supplying copycat air beds to the market — which could not be farther from the truth.”
American National, which specializes in bariatric and hospital beds, has separately sued Select Comfort in federal court in California for allegedly using “predatory litigation” to hurt competitors.
‘David and Goliath’ battle
Miller, who described his firm as the “David” in a David and Goliath battle, said American National has been making adjustable air mattress beds and the accompanying remote controls since 1987.
That’s the same year Robert and JoAnn Walker founded Select Comfort, a firm that has grown over the years by not just making beds, but establishing retail stores that sell them. Today Select Comfort has $1.2 billion in annual sales, 3,400 employees and more than 500 retail locations around the country.