Trouble in Toyland
Sex toy makers California Exotic Novelties, Doc Johnson, TopCo Sales and Nass Toys filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in federal court in November against Kammo Productions and the firm's president, Nick Orlandino, according to legal documents obtained by XBiz and confirmed by attorney Mark Hoffman of Labowe Labowe & Hoffman, who is representing the plaintiffs along with co-counsel from Lipsitz Green Fahringer Roll Salisbury & Cambria LLP.
Orlandino has filed a counterclaim in the Central District of California against the adult novelty companies in addition to a separate suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against AVN, which Orlandino claims is related to AVN's similarly named sex toy tradeshow called AVN Adult Novelty Expo (ANE).
The ANE debut show is slated for July, the same month as the next ANME show, and will be attended by California Exotic Novelties, Doc Johnson, TopCo Sales and Nass Toys, four companies that were formerly associated with ANME.
Orlandino claims that those four companies are rivaling Kammo's ANME, which is scheduled to take place at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas from July 11-13. At one point, CalExotics even sought a preliminary injunction to prohibit Kammo from using the ANME name for its upcoming convention. But at a Feb. 9 hearing, the injunction was denied.
Suit Against AVN
According to court documents, Orlandino's lawsuit against AVN began with an article published on the company's website on Nov. 1 that said ANME would now be operated by AVN's Event Division. The article opened by announcing the new management of ANME and went on to state that the managerial change was because "differences with [Kammo] could not be resolved."
The lawsuit states that the article, which was taken down shortly after AVN was notified, was the first in a string of events designed to wrest control of the ANME event away from Kammo, including solicitations made to ANME vendors to attend the new show. The suit also alleges that AVN engaged in improperly using the ANME name to promote its own tradeshow.
"The defendants threaten to continue their efforts to publish and communicate false statements about [Kammo] and its business operations among vendors and retailers," the lawsuit reads. "Unless enjoined, the defendants will continue to do so and continue to cause [Kammo] great and irreparable injury."
But AVN's "Unverified Answer" legal documents filed in the suit paint a different picture. According to the document, filed on Dec. 23, AVN was operating under the assurances of other third parties that told AVN they owned the ANME name. The response also asserts that Kammo did not name the appropriate defendants in the suit, that Kammo did not own any type of valid service mark to the ANME and Adult Novelty Manufacturers Expo names, and that any damages claimed by Kammo were purely speculative and incapable of being proved.
AVN also points out in its response that Kammo's causes of actions violate the First Amendment rights of the defendants named in the suit.
Records obtained from the U.S. Patent and Trademark office make the picture murkier. Though documents are currently on file for both the Adult Novelty Manufacturers Expo and ANME, and their owner is listed as Kammo Productions Inc., the filing date on both applications is listed as Nov. 19, 2004, 18 days after AVN's article was published, 13 days after California Exotic Novelties filed suit against Kammo, and five days before Kammo filed its lawsuit against AVN.
In many ways, ANME may have become a victim of its own success. The growth of the convention triggered disagreements, and differences emerged among its leading participants over the future direction of the expo.
The industry-only convention began in 1996, and until this year, took place annually in July at the Sheraton Universal, near Universal Studios in Los Angeles.
"When I first attended ANME in the 1990s, it was one little room and it took me half an hour to walk through it," said David Levine, president of Sex-Toy.com, which sells adult novelties online. "All the distributors and manufacturers are there. You see the latest and greatest in new things. Now it's bigger and more successful than ever, to the point that they felt they needed a larger space, because there wasn't any room for more booths."
But following the July 2004 ANME, "The Sheraton Universal asked us not to come back, because the show got too big. We had people stuck in closets almost, and there were people running around half naked. Some crazy stuff went on," Orlandino said.
Squeezed In The Middle
Consequently, the legal squabble is causing fallout among many of the smaller sex toy businesses, which are being caught in the middle. Some feel that the organizers of the two events are toying with their affections.
Sadie Allison, the owner of TickleKitty.com, sells adult novelties manufactured by other companies and writes and self publishes how-to sex guidebooks.
"For us smaller manufacturers, we just want to go where the buyers are going and have one cohesive family," Allison told XBiz. "It's challenging for us, because we're trying to figure out which show to attend and where buyers will be going to look for products. I've spoken with peers in the business and many are up in the air about where to exhibit. We're just trying to do our thing. It puts a strain on everyone's business."
Like others in the adult novelty trade, the San Francisco-based businesswoman is now faced with the onerous prospect of having to travel to and participate in two separate conventions, only about a week apart from one another.
"That's not something I'm happy about, if that's what I end up doing," Allison said. "As a small business, sometimes we might not be able to afford that."
If asked to choose between the two tradeshows, Allison said, "At this time I'm undecided."
Levine felt similarly.
"I'm not picking any favorites," Levine said. "I love them all, and I carry all of their products. They're being all one show is easier for me. But if there's two shows, I'd probably go to both."
The dispute has caused confusion, Allison said.
"It's disappointing, too, Allison said. "The toy manufacturers' industry is not that huge. It's a little disheartening. It's one of those 'I wish we could all get along' things.'"