Batesville Casket Raises Patent Infringement Claims

July 26, 2010
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imageThe biggest casket manufacturer in the country is hoping an investigation will close the lid on what it alleges is patent infringement by a Mexican importer.

The United States International Trade Commission in Washington is investigating whether a company called Ataudes Aguilares of Guadalajara, Mexico, violated trade laws by importing knockoffs of casket designs patented in the U.S. by Batesville Casket Co., an arm of Indiana-based Hillenbrand Inc.

Batesville Caskets filed a complaint with the commission after the company discovered that a funeral home in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico was selling 14 caskets from Ataudes Aguilares.

Shari Morey, communications manager for Hillenbrand, said the company’s representatives regularly inspect funeral homes to ensure that competitors are not copying their designs.

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By company estimates, the patented caskets will rake in at least $130 million in sales to funeral homes this year. Batesville has obtained agreements from the funeral homes that purchase its caskets to stop selling the imports, Morey said.

One of the patented designs cited in the complaint is a compartment built into the lower lid. Known as a MemorySafe Drawer, the compartment allows personal effects to be stored inside of the casket itself.

In other caskets, a separate box containing memorabilia is placed somewhere alongside the deceased.

The company also alleges that the imported caskets featured another patented design that the company calls Lifesymbols Corners — ornaments, such as an eagle or angel or rose, which are attached to the corners of the casket exterior and can be removed before burial for keepsakes or for placement upon a plaque.

“No other caskets in the United States have those,” Morey said. “These were proprietary features.”

Products patented in the U.S. are protected from infringements by foreign importers under the 1930 Tariff Act. Batesville also has patents for the designs approved or pending in Mexico and Canada, according to the complaint.

The commission opened the investigation into the possible violation July 2, and will set a target date for completing the investigation within the next month. Commission spokeswoman Peg O’Laughlin said the decision to look into the matter is not indicative of the commission taking any position on the case.

The results of the investigation will be heard before an administrative law judge. A judgment in favor of Batesville would halt import of the copycat caskets at the border. However, the judgment could then be reviewed, modified or overturned by the commission and the U.S. trade representative.

Representatives for Ataudes Aguilares could not be reached for comment, and the Mexican Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Source: Courier-Journal.com

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