Hell’s Bay settles splashing lawsuit

TITUSVILLE, Fla. – Since launching its anti-splashing lawsuit five months ago to protect its hull designs from being copied, Hell’s Bay has reached an out-of-court settlement with Beavertail Skiffs, it reported in a statement this afternoon.

Hell’s Bay Holdings, Inc. filed the complaint against Fisher Beavertail Manufacturing this past November, alleging Fisher Beavertail had splashed Hell’s Bay’s Waterman models. Though Fisher Beavertail Manufacturing is an Avon, Minn.-based corporation, the lawsuit alleged Beavertail built, distributed, marketed and sold the copied skiffs in Florida injurious to the Hell’s Bay designed and manufactured boats headquartered in Titusville, according to Hell’s Bay.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division. Hell’s Bay said it had asked for a jury trial before a settlement was reached.

Through its Orlando-based intellectual property attorneys of Beusse Wolter Sanks Mora, & Maire, P.A., Hell’s Bay brought five counts against Beavertail, which included design patent infringement, trade dress infringement, unfair and deceptive trade practices and violations of Florida’s anti-dilution statute, the company explained.

A decade ago, Hell’s Bay was formed to create a new style of shallow water fishing skiff that incorporated many new design ideas that now give Hell’s Bay a distinctive look, according to the company. That look has now become the trade dress for a Hell’s Bay skiff.

For the trade dress portion of the lawsuit, Hell’s Bay also included photographs of the unique hulls of its flats boats for comparison to the hulls it alleged were copied, produced, marketed and sold by Beavertail under its Osprey, B2 and BTX models.

Though the exact terms of the settlement were not disclosed, Chris Peterson, Hell’s Bay’s president, was elated with the results of the outcome, which included Hell’s Bay receiving monetary compensation, a discontinuation of the current Beavertail designs and destruction of the molds.

“While no liability was found or admitted in the settlement, we feel that the results of the settlement should show the marine industry that marine intellectual property rights can be protected,” said Peterson. “It can take some companies well over a hundred thousand dollars and up to a year to develop a design, create its tooling, test it, refine it, and do more on-the-water testing to bring it to market. But to splash a hull, it can take just days to copy and a minimal amount of money to produce a boat.”

Kevin W. Wimberly, one of Hell’s Bay’s attorneys, said, “Hell’s Bay has been diligent in not only obtaining protection for its intellectual property portfolio but also in asserting that protection.

“Vessel hull designs may be protected in several ways, including by obtaining vessel hull registrations with the Copyright Office, obtaining design patents under the Patent Act, and via registered or common law trade dress under the Lanham Act. Despite this apparent overlapping protection, vessel hull designs are often thought to inhabit an intellectual property gray area due to the intricacies of the law and past precedent.

“While the specific strategy used for protecting a business’s intellectual property portfolio may vary, market conditions and the ever-present threat of shortcut-seeking market entrants make the need for some form of protection plan vitally important.”

Peterson further explained, “One key portion of our lawsuit was the trade dress infringement. Registered or not, trade dress is a protectable right. It’s the unique, distinctive design and look of a product.”

Peterson gave as an example competitive soft drink bottlers trying to use the styling of the famous green Coca Cola bottle.

“We are known, especially among owners of shallow water boats, for the distinctive look of our boats which include the curvature of the bow hull along with the bold splash chine,” he said. “Our boat designs are covered by design patents and our distinctive trade dress. We feel that other manufacturers have copied our designs and we will be evaluating those infringements as we decide to go after other builders who we feel copied us.”

Hell’s Bay Marine, which has eight models of shallow-water skiffs in the 14- to 18-foot range, is located in Titusville, Fla.

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