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Refrigerator wars

BY Brae Canlen

One of the things you learn as a journalist is there are two sides to every story you write, and you have to make an attempt to get in touch with both of them. Even if you’re on deadline, or it’s a hassle to find their contact info, or it’s doubtful they’ll even call you back.

I came across a Whirlpool press release on the PR Newswire, and since it involved an interesting patent infringement lawsuit, I downloaded a copy. The headline read, “Whirlpool Corp. wins favorable verdict against LG Electronics in Delaware patent litigation.” The case involved a side-by-side refrigerator with an in-the-door ice system that Whirlpool claimed LG copied. There was a Delaware jury, a seven-day trial in U.S. District Court and a $1.78 million award, according to the press release.

I wrote up a summary of the case, then went to LG’s Web site looking for a rebuttal. Couldn’t find it. (Turns out it was there; I was looking in the wrong place.) But a call to the company’s media relations person was returned promptly, and the press release arrived shortly thereafter. The title read, “Jury verdict favors LG Electronics in Whirlpool refrigerator patent case.”

What this means, to a journalist, is a tangled web of claims and counter-claims that have to be unraveled before you even start writing the story. Time to take a caffeine break.

Since I was working from home that day, help arrived in the form of a warm Coke and a glass of ice from my side-by side refrigerator with an in-the-door ice system. It’s not made by Whirlpool or LG, which is a good thing, because then I would be subject to another journalistic caveat: prejudicial bias.

You see, the exit flap on my ice chute sticks, so every time I want ice, I have to open the freezer door, reach around and shove my arm down the ice chute and push the ice out. I try to catch most of it in a bowl, but some ice cubes always ricochet off the rim and land on the kitchen floor, where I have to gather them up before they melt into small puddles.

And here’s the best part: I have a maintenance contract on the refrigerator that I dutifully renew every year with Sears. But the repairman they send—I always get a guy named Alfonso—has more than once hinted that he would be grateful if I made him lunch. It’s creepy, but not really something you can report somebody for. I’ll just keep sticking my arm down the ice chute.

Back to Whirlpool and LG. Whirlpool filed its patent infringement suit in 2008, claiming that LG copied its idea to put the ice storage in the door of its side-by-side refrigerators, thereby freeing up more freezer space. The jury (five women, three men) agreed and awarded Whirlpool $1.78 million.

Apparently the case also came before the International Trade Commission, which ruled there was no patent infringement. But the Delaware jury did not learn of the ITC’s ruling, something LG hopes to rectify—along with the jury’s award—with a judicial review.

LG said it is already using a different technology for the in-door ice system on the older generation side-by-side refrigerators. It has also filed its own patent infringement lawsuit against Whirlpool’s French Door refrigerators in a New Jersey federal court. That case is still pending.

Lastly, the two companies were also disputing who invented a certain water dispensing technology in their refrigerators. The Delaware jury recognized the validity of LG’s patent but did not find that Whirlpool had infringed upon it.

So now the story is written, and it wasn’t so hard after all. And in the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that my refrigerator has another, more serious problem that needs to be fixed. All the fruit in the produce bin keeps freezing. So I really do need to call Sears, schedule an appointment and face Alfonso. Maybe I’ll just make him a sandwich.

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Trex posts Q1 loss

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Winchester, Va.-based Trex has announced a first-quarter net loss of $4.6 million, compared with a net loss of $3.1 million in the year-ago period.

Net sales for the quarter ended March 31 totaled $66.3 million, down 2% from net sales of $67.7 million for the 2009 first quarter.

“We are investing in our game-changing new product offering with the goal of further expanding our leading market share,” said president and CEO Ronald W. Kaplan. “Due to the widespread demand and expanded manufacturing capacity for Trex Transcend, we expect a solid second quarter with sales of $110 million. This would bring total first-half-2010 sales to $176 million, as compared with $159 million in the first six months of 2009.”

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Lawnmower manufacturers settle in class action suit

BY HBSDEALER Staff

More than 20 lawnmower brands, including motor manufacturers, have agreed to a settlement in a class action lawsuit over falsely advertised horsepower, according to an article on consumeraffiars.com

The lawsuit, filed May 2009 in a federal court in Wisconsin, said that the manufacturers “significantly overstated” the horsepower of the subject lawnmowers, “failing to disclose…[their] true, significantly lower horsepower.”

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