Lawsuit could threaten sales of Columbia's Omni-Heat Electric technology

Innovative Sports Inc. filed a lawsuit March 27 alleging Columbia Sportswear violated trade secrets and non-disclosure agreements to develop parts of its Omni-Heat Electric technology. SNEWS reviews the allegations and provides a full copy of the lawsuit.
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A small heated apparel company has filed a lawsuit against Columbia Sportswear and two other parties, alleging they illegally obtained its technologies to develop parts of Columbia’s Omni-Heat Electric clothing line.

The lawsuit filed by Innovative Sports Inc. March 27 in Lane County, Oregon Circuit Court seeks monetary damages and a stop to Omni-Heat Electric apparel sales, accusing Columbia, NCS Power Inc. and Allyan Group LLC of six charges including violation of trade secrets, breach of contract and intentional interference.

Columbia Senior Director of Corporate Communications Ron Parham told SNEWS the company is aware of the suit. “We do not believe it has any merit,” he said. “Company policy precludes further comment during pending litigation.”

In the lawsuit, reviewed by SNEWS and available here for download, Innovative Sports said it entered the market in 2003 with a heated pitching sleeve (used by collegiate and professional baseball players) and lithium battery-powered heated jackets.

Innovative Sports Founder and CEO Colby Taylor claims he first met with Columbia officials in late 2004 and again in early 2005. The meetings produced suggestions that the companies work together on a co-branded jacket. At that point, Taylor said he had Columbia officials sign 10-year non-disclosure agreements before discussing the technical aspects of Innovative Sports’s technologies. Upon follow-up to those meetings, Columbia terminated discussions, the lawsuit states.

Additionally, Innovative Sports claims it held discussions with brands including Nike, Burton, Spyder and Under Armour, all under protection of non-disclosure agreements.

Columbia and Innovative Sports began speaking again in late 2006, according to Taylor’s account in the court documents. This time around, they discussed new Innovative Sports technology, including a built-in system to both heat and charge portable electronics, he said, adding that more non-disclosure agreements were signed. Following a few weeks of correspondence, Columbia officials again cut off talks, the lawsuit claims.

Nearly two years later, in fall 2008, the lawsuit claims NCS Power and The Allyan Group approached Innovative Sports about developing a heated jacket and gloves for NCS Power’s third-party clients. Non-disclosure agreements were signed, along with a deal for NCS to finance at least 100 finished heating elements, which it then took into possession. NCS later terminated the relationship on unsubstantiated claims of problems with the technology, the lawsuit alleges.

In the meantime, Taylor said he discovered that NCS was working with Columbia, and at least one of its products made for NCS was given to Columbia, in breach of the non-disclosure agreements, the lawsuit claims. Taylor said Columbia returned the product to him, but he was denied access to by both groups on what other information or products changed hands.

In fall 2009, Columbia’s Mountain Hardwear brand released the Refugium and Radiance electric heated jackets, which, the lawsuit claims, “contained a clone of Innovative Sports’ USB charging battery design, a stainless steel yarn heating element network that mimicked its design and a switching mechanisms that mimicked its previously disclosed switch.”

Similarly, the lawsuit alleges that Columbia’s Omni-Heat Electric line of clothing, which debuted in late 2011, “utilized the USB charging function as a key feature and primary marketing tool.”

The lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages from Columbia for the alleged charges, plus an injunctive relief seeking to stop Columbia from producing the heated sportswear.

Innovative Sports, which claims its business has been hurt by the ordeal, has a Facebook page, but none of its five listed websites were operating as of March 28.

--David Clucas

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