A Detroit law firm has been walloped with a $33 million legal malpractice suit over a lacrosse stick patent.
Warrior Sports Inc., a Michigan sports equipment manufacturer, alleges that Detroit's Dickinson Wright is liable for the actions of two patent attorneys who let the stick's patent lapse in 2004 after failing to pay a required maintenance fee on time. Consequently, the suit claims, competitors entered the market with similar lacrosse sticks, whose curved heads make it easier to scoop up the ball and shoot it. The patent lapse also forced Warrior to reach an unfavorable settlement in an ongoing infringement suit against a competitor -- STX -- which was selling the patented stick and still gets to sell it under the terms of the deal, according to the suit filed on Monday in federal court.
The accused lawyers, John A. Artz and John S. Artz, worked for Artz & Artz at the time the patent lapsed. Their firm merged with Dickinson Wright in 2007, so the plaintiffs are now holding Dickinson Wright liable, claiming "what was once a legal monopoly for Warrior is no more."
David Black of Southfield, Mich's Sommers Schwartz, who is representing Warrior Sports, said the lawyers' failure to pay a simple administrative fee turned into a colossal mistake.
"When they allowed the patent to lapse, it became invalid. As a result, competitors were able to enter the market, and Warrior was forced to settle the ongoing litigation it had with its main competitor," Black said. "When the patent was invalidated, that pretty much pulled the rug out from under the infringement claim."
Black said the Artz attorneys created more legal headaches for Warrior Sports when, in a counterclaim by STX, they were accused of engaging in inequitable conduct for allegedly deceiving the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in obtaining the stick's patent. That, he said, also forced the settlement.
"If there was any chance at all to preserve the patent, it needed to settle. If [STX] had been successful in the inequitable conduct claim, the patent would have been voided from the beginning. Whereas now, they were successful in having the patent reinstated," Black said. "Unfortunately, it doesn't reduce the damage that was suffered while the patent was lapsed from 2004 to May of this year."
John S. Artz and John A. Artz of Dickinson Wright declined comment.
John E. McSorley of Detroit's Garan Lucow Miller, who is representing Dickinson Wright, was not available for comment.