Vari-Lite/Martin lawsuit enters new phase

Vari-Lite International announced in late July that the United States Federal District Court in Sherman, TX, had granted Vari-Lite Inc. a preliminary injunction against Martin Gruppen A/S and Martin Professional A/S in its ongoing patent infringement suit against the Danish firm. This injunction prohibits the companies and all their affiliates from making, using, selling, leasing, or offering for sale or lease in the United States, or importing into the US, the Martin MAC 600, 500, or 300, or the Case series controller in conjunction with any of those three products.

A copy of the injunction can be found at The company released a statement from Rusty Brutsche, president and CEO of Vari-Lite International, which read, in part: "Vari-Lite is widely acknowledged as the originator of the automated lighting industry since we were the first to market a commercially viable automated lighting system. It is imperative that we protect the investment we make in research and development to enable us to fund our development of new technologies. The defense of our intellectual property rights is an important element of this process. The preliminary injunction granted by the court demonstrates the strength of our intellectual property rights. We hope the court's decision will cause other infringing parties to stop manufacturing, selling, or leasing infringing products."

In its own media statement, Martin said the ruling had been appealed to the Federal Circuit Court in Washington, DC, where it is expected to be tried by early fall. As of presstime, action had already been taken; on August 17, the court temporarily vacated the injunction due to "inadequate findings," and Martin vowed that if the original order for the injunction was upheld by the District Court it would again appeal to the Circuit Court.

In its original statement, Martin stressed that "the injunction in no way affects use of, or sales of, the aforementioned products by customers in the US who have previously bought the MAC 300/ 500/600 and Case as the injunction only covers Martin sales into the US," and that support and service of previously purchased products will continue. Nor will sales of other products cease in the US. Said Martin Group sales director Pio Nahum, "The market can be certain that we will double our efforts and recommit ourselves to the US market."

Said Martin Group president and CEO Kristian Kolding, "Protective market measures have time and again proven to be detrimental to free market economies by limiting choice and artificially maintaining high prices. Our competitors should not think that patent issues can stop free market forces, the opening of markets to foreign competition, or the free flow of goods. Martin will fight to maintain a healthy and open competitive environment, not only for the benefit of its customers, but for the benefit of the lighting industry in the US as well."

Vari-Lite has also seen some staff changes recently: 14-year veteran Mark Fetto, previously the manager of VLPS's corporate event division, has been promoted to general manager of its North American operations. His new tasks include overseeing company offices in New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville from VLPS corporate headquarters in Dallas. "This latest extension of my responsibilities will serve to further unify the North American network and strengthen the VLPS concept," Fetto says.

That concept, however, will no longer employ the services of Anne Valentino, who has accepted a newly created vice president of marketing position within the PRG Lighting Group in North Bergen, NJ. PRG's Bill Gallinghouse is now vice president of sales for the Lighting Group.