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June 18, 2012

Dispute between wreath makers sent to state court

A federal court judge has issued a ruling in a legal dispute between two Down East balsam wreath makers, saying the case should be settled in state, not federal, court. In November 2010, Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington filed a patent infringement suit against Machias-based Whitney Originals, claiming Whitney copied Worcester's designs for a miniature tabletop Christmas tree sold by L.L.Bean.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court because Worcester claimed Whitney violated federal patents. However, U.S. District Court Judge George Singal recently ruled that the case focuses on contract issues, not federal patent violations, and should be decided by state court, according to the Bangor Daily News. Worcester's attorney, Charles Gilbert, told the paper the company will pursue the case in state court. Worcester Wreath filled the L.L.Bean contract for years before losing it to Whitney in 2009.

It's the third legal dispute the companies have had in 11 years. In 2000, Whitney Wreath challenged Worcester's patents for decorative trees created and sold through L.L.Bean and other retailers; the companies reached a settlement. In 2009, Worcester sued Whitney over its new warehouse in Whitneyville, saying it blocked a right-of-way to Worcester's adjacent property. The companies again settled.

In related news, L.L.Bean was recently ordered to pay Worcester Wreath $657,000 to reimburse the company for the purchase of wreath components that L.L.Bean was unable to sell in 2008.

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