Judge Sides With Playboy Over Suit Against Japanese Partners

CHICAGO — A federal judge gave Playboy the green light to continue its lawsuit against two foreign companies, which were licensed to sell Playboy-branded products in Japan.

Smartitan PTE was given a license in 2006 to sell Playboy-branded products that included apparel and women’s bags. But two years later, the company was caught selling unapproved merchandise both within and outside Japan.

The complaint said that Smartitan was also frequently late with its sales reports and fell behind royalty payments. An audit, conducted by a Hong Kong-based company Eltex, revealed that Smartitan owed Playboy more than $300,000.

Because Eltex had made all the payments due to Playboy, the company assumed “that Smartitan and Eltex were one and the same.” Playboy believed “Eltex so controlled the affairs of Smartitan that Smartitan was a mere instrumentality of Eltex.”

Eltex continued the contract with Playboy even after Smartitan dissolved but Playboy was unaware of the change.

“There were no changes in business that would have alerted Playboy that Smartitan had been dissolved and all payments continued to come, as they always had, from Eltex,” the suit said.

Playboy filed suit in Illinois against both Smartitan and Eltex, alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment.

Smartitan managing director George Chan was also named as a defendant but claims against him were dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen denied Smartitan and Eltex's motions to dismiss, finding that both companies were bound by the initial license agreement, which provided that all litigation would occur in Illinois.

Playboy seeks $750,000 in damages for the unauthorized merchandise.