STX loses face-off over stick patent; Local manufacturer of lacrosse equipment sees suit dismissed; Sporting goods


A federal judge in Baltimore ruled yesterday that there have been no fouls in the heated competition among lacrosse-stick makers.

In a 55-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis dismissed all claims arising from a patent infringement suit brought by Baltimore-based STX Inc. against its two top rivals, Brine and Warrior Lacrosse.

STX had claimed that Brine and Warrior had infringed on its patent for a popular plastic lacrosse stick head, called an "open sidewall" model, and asked for unspecified money damages and an injunction to prevent its competitors from continuing to make the head.

But Davis, ruling on pre-trial motions filed by Brine and Warrior, said STX's patent was invalid.

Davis also dismissed a counterclaim filed by Brine that one of STX's models infringed on a separate patent for a "offset" lacrosse stick head, designed to improve control and speed, held by the New Hampshire-based sporting goods company.

Davis' ruling closes the 2-year-old court case, leaving the marketplace as the sole competitive arena for equipment in a rapidly growing sport with 250,000 players and stick prices as high as $175 each.

STX -- the storied company on Bush Street in Southwest Baltimore that pioneered the synthetic, as opposed to wooden, lacrosse stick three decades ago -- said it has not decided whether to appeal.

"We're still reviewing it," David A. Emala, the company's general counsel, said of Davis' decision.

Emala added that, despite the patent ruling, there was no question that STX "introduced the open sidewall stick to the market. STX is the leader in lacrosse innovation -- always has been and always will be."

Attorneys for Brine and Warrior were pleased.

"We are delighted with the result," said D. Christopher Ohly, the company's local counsel.

He said open-sidewall sticks account for "50 percent or more" of Brine's sales. Had STX prevailed in its claim, he said, it would have had "disastrous impact" on Brine's business.

With the ruling, he said, Brine can continue "beating STX in the marketplace."

Mark A. Cantor, an attorney for Michigan-based Warrior, called the ruling "great news. What STX did was accuse every product Warrior made of infringement. If we had lost this case, I don't know if Warrior could have survived."

STX and Brine are longtime rivals in the market for lacrosse sticks, gloves and pads. Warrior, founded seven years ago, has made a big impact on the sport with its introduction of titanium lacrosse sticks and its exclusive sponsorship of last year's quadrennial World Championships at Johns Hopkins' Homewood Field.

STX had first sought a patent for its "open sidewall" lacrosse stick head in 1985, but the patent was not granted until 1996. The name refers to the fact that the sides of the head are not made of solid plastic, but have openings that improve the head aerodynamically.

Davis ruled that STX's patent was not valid, because the company had sold the stick more than a year before it applied for the patent, a violation of patent law, and because its descriptions of the innovations of the "open sidewall" stick head were imprecise.

Davis also said STX's Raptor stick did not infringe on Brine's patent for an "offset" head, which has more of a bulging pocket to hold the ball, because the STX model has a different design.

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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