FreeMotion takes alleged imitators to task

With two patent-infringement lawsuits pending, FreeMotion Fitness has said it will now aggressively pursue alleged imitators of its functional cable arm technology that it initially rolled out nearly four years ago. Legal challenges are pending against Cybex International and The Nautilus Group, and more could surface soon.
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With two patent-infringement lawsuits pending, FreeMotion Fitness has said it will now aggressively pursue alleged imitators of its functional cable arm technology that it initially rolled out nearly four years ago.

Legal challenges are pending against Cybex International and The Nautilus Group, FreeMotion COO Patrick Hald told SNEWS, and others could be on the way as the company and its parent Icon Fitness discuss negotiations and filings against others, both in North America and in Europe.

"So far, we haven't seen anything else that is creative enough that gets around the patents," Icon legal counsel Brad Bearnson said. "They're all me-too-ers."

Hald said the Cybex FT 360 is the alleged violator, while the Nautilus Freedom Trainer is the piece the company is taking to task. In addition, Bearnson said FreeMotion is in negotiations with Life Fitness on alleged patent violations on one strength-training piece. With various patents approved in North America, the company said it expects to take on other equipment companies -- naming Italy's Technogym and Germany's Sportesse -- once its pending patents are approved in Europe, which could happen later this year.

Life Fitness declined comment on the legal matter, and a Cybex spokesman was unavailable for comment before deadline.

The Cybex case was initially filed in December 2001, with the most recent action being court visits in July to area clubs to look at the equipment (called "The Accused" in court briefs). A trial may not take place until early 2004, if it gets that far. The Nautilus case was filed in September 2002 with a jury trial now set for October 2004. In both cases -- before the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah -- settlements or postponements could happen at any time. The first patent-infringement lawsuit filed by FreeMotion was a 2001 case against Hoist Fitness, during which Hoist filed an infringement counter complaint; both complaints were dismissed and the case closed in April 2003.

"We are the originators, the inventors, and since then, one, it's displeasing from the fact you put a ton of time and energy into the technology and, two, it's pleasing because one of the highest forms of flattery is to be copied," Hald said. "Everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon."

It's not just a cable and a grip that differentiates FreeMotion's technology, Hald pointed out. What's specific, and patented, are the resistance ratios created by using the handles in different ways, plus the equipment allows the user to define the path and range of motion as well as the travel of the cable rather than the machine. "It's designed to move the way users move," Hald said.

FreeMotion Fitness was introduced to the fitness industry by creator Roy Simonson in the fall of 1999 as Ground Zero Fitness; Icon Health & Fitness bought the company, including all patent rights and assets in December 2000.

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