Special to CONTRACTOR
PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. - Plumberex Specialty Products has filed suit against Truebro in federal court in Riverside County, Calif., charging that Truebro is violating antitrust laws by restraining trade in the market for under-sink pipe covers. The suit claims that Truebro acquired numerous market-controlling patents on under-sink pipe covers and enforced them in a manner to prevent Plumberex and others from promoting their competing products.
The suit also claims that Truebro engaged in targeted discounting and charges that Truebro attempts to get its dealers to not sell any competing products. Plumberex is asking the court to stop Truebro’s actions, to award Plumberex damages and for other unspecified future relief.
Truebro responded by stating that Plumberex’s allegations in the lawsuit are false.
Plumberex and Truebro manufacture engineered under-sink pipe covers to accommodate wheelchair-bound users’ access to sinks and lavatories. The pipe covers prevent wheelchair users from hitting pipes and traps under the sink and from burning themselves on the hot water supply pipe. The under-sink pipe covers are designed to satisfy code requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The lawsuit claims Truebro owns 25 patents on the products and manufactures 70% or more of the under-sink pipe covers sold in the United States. Plumberex is one of a handful of companies that compete with Truebro in the manufacture and sale of under-sink covers.
In August 2000, Truebro filed a lawsuit against Plumberex for patent infringement and false advertising. Plumberex responded with a countersuit against Truebro.
In March, Truebro noted, the court ruled that Plumberex was guilty of infringing on Truebro’s patents, certain false advertising practices, and filing a “baseless and frivolous” patent-infringement countersuit against Truebro. The court awarded Truebro damages and attorneys’ fees in the amount of $2.1 million. Truebro said it was cleared of Plumberex’s countersuit accusations.
After the court ruling, Plumberex filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
“This lawsuit is without merit,” said Truebro President Tom Trueb. “Truebro is confident that the allegations of this lawsuit, just like Plumberex’s allegations in the last suit against Truebro, will once again be found completely baseless.”
Plumberex President, Gabriel V. Lechuga said: “If Truebro were beating us with a better product that would be one thing. We can meet and would even welcome that competition. But we brought this case because we believed that Truebro was doing far more than that to defeat us.”
Truebro said that he agrees with Lechuga that the better product will succeed in the marketplace.