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Hell’s Bay reaches settlement in hull-splashing dispute

Hell's Bay Boatworks has reached an out-of-court settlement with Beavertail Skiffs in regard to the anti-splashing lawsuit it filed last fall against the Minnesota boatbuilder.

Though the exact terms of the settlement were not disclosed, Hell's Bay's president Chris Peterson said he was pleased with the results of the outcome, which he says included Hell's Bay receiving monetary compensation and that the current Beavertail designs would be discontinued and the molds destroyed.

"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," Peterson said in a statement.

Beavertail president Mark Fisher says his company did not splash the hulls or infringe on patents or copyrights.

"What Hell's Bay has made it sound like in their press release is that they're completely happy with the outcome because they got monetary gain out of it, when the truth of the matter is [the agreement] says, 'No party to this agreement may declare that they won or prevailed in this lawsuit, or declare that liability was admitted by or found against any of the parties,' " Fisher told Soundings Trade Only this morning.

Fisher went on to say that Hell's Bay paid his company to stop building the boats.

"For us it was a good time because we had built over 400 hulls out of that mold already and we needed to replace our mold, so basically they got hornswaggled by a bunch of farmers up here in Minnesota to pay for all of our new molds," he said. "That's the truth of the lawsuit."

Peterson could not be reached this morning for additional comment.

Hell's Bay Holdings, Inc. filed the complaint against Fisher Beavertail Manufacturing in 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, Fla.

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

Hell's Bay brought five counts against Beavertail that included design patent infringement, trade dress infringement, unfair and deceptive trade practices and violations of Florida's anti-dilution statute.

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. That look has now become the trade dress for a Hell's Bay skiff.

"One key portion of our lawsuit was the trade dress infringement," Peterson said. "Registered or not, trade dress is a protectable right. It's the unique, distinctive design and look of a product. 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," he added.

Fisher added that Beavertail's settlement was paid by its insurance company and nothing came out of the company's pocket.

"We're in stronger and better shape today than we've ever been," he said.

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