Architecture & Design, Law, and Manufacturing

Furniture maker files patent-infringement suit

March 30, 2017
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Herman Miller FY2013 sales at $1.77B
Herman Miller exhibits the Mirra 2 chair at a NeoCon trade show. Photo via fb.com

A furniture maker in the area has filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against a family owned business, which it says is selling chairs with striking similarities to two of its chairs.

This is the second lawsuit Zeeland-based Herman Miller has filed against California-based Office Star.

The suit, filed last week in the U.S. Western District Court of Michigan, is regarding Herman Miller’s Caper and Mirra products.

Herman Miller won its previous suit months ago, after accusing Office Star and King Hong, a Taiwanese manufacturer, of making and distributing copies of its Eames Aluminum Group chairs since 2010.

In 2016, a jury determined that Office Star had engaged in willful infringement and dilution in selling King Hong’s chairs, awarding $8.4 million in damages to Herman Miller.

Now, Herman Miller says Office Star and King Hong — along with additional defendants Jorng Well Industrial, Nova Asia Int’l and Nova Innovations, all Taiwanese companies — are infringing on its patents again.

Herman Miller alleges the defendants are engaged in “large-scale national distribution of the accused infringing chairs,” with the “express knowledge and intent that those chairs would be offered for sale and sold in Michigan.”

Herman Miller says Office Star is a “large, sophisticated” office chair distributor with about $180 million in revenue per year, which has been “distributing nationally in the United States (and overseas) for decades.”

The company alleges King Hong manufactures the accused infringing copies of the chairs, and Office Star is a major U.S. distributor of the accused chairs.

“Office Star sells to a vast network of dealers, distributors and ecommerce retailers, who then re-sell the chairs into the marketplace,” Herman Miller says.

Herman Miller says all accused defendants are aware of Herman Miller’s patents and trade dress rights to the chairs in question, making their actions “willful.”

Herman Miller says its Caper and Mirra products are well-known brands, both having received design awards and selling well in the marketplace for years.

The company says it sold more than 2-million Caper units, mostly stacking chairs, since introducing the design in 2000, and Herman Miller has spent more than $10 million marketing the chair, which has a "distinctive bowler-hat-like backrest.”

The company has sold 1.5-million Mirra units since the design was introduced in 2003, and Herman Miller spent more than $13 million marketing the chair, which it says has a “perforated butterfly backrest design,” which is “highly recognizable and distinctive in the market.”

Herman Miller is seeking recovery of all of its lost profits associated with the number of accused chairs sold. It is also asking to recover all of Office Star and King Hong’s infringing profits, as well as a “reasonable royalty” and for the court to treble the damages and award attorney fees. The company is requesting a jury trial.

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