Patent Infringement Suit Targets Playboy’s Websites

Rhett Pardon
LOS ANGELES — Playboy Enterprises has been hit with a lawsuit over the method it sells adult DVDs, lingerie, sex toys and novelties on its websites, XBIZ has learned.

The infringement case against Playboy over U.S. Patent No. 5,721,832 was filed at U.S. District Court in Chicago by Furnace Brook LLC, seeking “enhanced” monetary damages, royalties and attorneys fees.

Furnace Brook, which owns the ‘832 patent described as a “method and apparatus for an interactive computerized catalog system,” has sent out about 200 demands for licensing in the past four years, attorney George C. Summerfield told XBIZ.

Summerfield of the Chicago-based law firm Stadheim & Grear, which represents Furnace Brook, said that the company so far has more than 70 licensed users of its patent, which “cuts across all industries,” and that other adult entertainment companies that do business on the web won’t be excluded from possible claims.

“We are looking for certain mechanisms, elements and common features on online retail sites, including graphical catalog data, payment information and more,” he said.

In Playboy’s case, Summerfield said that Furnace Brook sent out numerous letters to the adult entertainment giant but did not receive a favorable reply.

Playboy officials did not return XBIZ phone calls for comment by post time.

Furnace Brook has taken several blue-chip brands to court over ‘832, according to court filings, including Spiegel, Orbitz and Anna’s Linens. Those companies’ suits were terminated by Furnace Brook after the retailers licensed the patent.

Furnace Brook, however, lost a battle against, which sought a declaratory judgment of noninfringement in the case three years ago.

In that case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit noted that Furnace Brook fell squarely in the description of a "patent troll."

The court noted that Furnace Brook's business model seemed to be based on intimidating companies with the threat of litigation in order to force them to sign a license agreement.

For the adult entertainment industry, Furnace Brook vs. Playboy is reminiscent of Acacia Media Technologies Corp.’s litigation with dozens of companies over digital media transmission that is now in its fourth year.

Acacia claims its patent covers virtually any manner of transmitting and receiving digital and audio content over the Internet.

Although Acacia was able to secure settlements from a number of online adult companies, others fought back, and eventually coalesced into the united Adult Defense Group effort.

The case against the Adult Defense Group continues at U.S. District Court in San Jose.