Homebuilders' online service files patent infringement suit against Pulte, others

Marilyn Tennissen Aug. 27, 2008, 3:28am

Scott Clearman

MARSHALL – A recent patent infringement suit has an online service for builders and buyers pitted against some of the country's largest homebuilders and manufacturers.

Attorneys from Houston's The Clearman Law Firm filed a 72-page petition alleging the defendants committed patent infringement, trade secret theft, fraud and violated antitrust laws and confidentiality agreements in order to build a competing Web-based business.

According to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall, the owners of HomeBuilderShowroom.com invented the "Builder's On-Line Assistant" in 1999. The service uses the Internet to connect homebuilders, manufacturers and homebuyers.

HomeBuilderShowroom.com claims the design allowed builders to offer standards and upgrades for homes as well as the opportunity for homebuyers to make their purchasing decisions online using virtual showrooms.

The owner of HomeBuilderShowroom.com – OLA LLC, a privately held company based in Chicago – applied to patent the processes associated with "Builder's On-Line Assistant" in January 2000, and received two related patents in 2006 and 2007.

The lawsuit alleges that, prior to securing the patents, OLA reached confidentiality agreements with several of the defendants before providing a demonstration of "Builder's On-Line Assistant."

Relying on the confidentiality agreements, the petition continues, OLA revealed details about its methods and service after receiving positive responses from several homebuilders and manufacturers.

However, according to the complaint, the defendants declined to purchase the service offered by OLA, and instead formed a new company that began marketing a nearly identical service in 2005 called "Envision."

The Austin, Texas-based company formed by the homebuilders and home products manufacturers – Builder Homesite Inc. – claims on its Web site that the "Envision" service has increased homebuilders' profits by $2,000 to $5,000 per home on more than 150,000 homes thus far.

The same language is included on the Web site for New Home Technologies Inc., a Builder Homesite subsidiary.

Homebuilders named as defendants in the lawsuit include Beazer Homes USA Inc., Capital Pacific Holdings Inc., Centex Real Estate Corp., David Weekley Homes, KB Home, Lennar Corp., Pulte Homes Inc., Standard Pacific Corp. and Toll Brothers Inc.

Also named as defendants are home products manufacturers Georgia-Pacific Corp., Hearth & Home Technologies Inc., Honeywell International Inc., Kohler Co., Masco Corp., Overhead Door Corp., Owens Corning, Greenville, Progress Lighting Inc., Square D Co., Therma-Tru Corp., Weyerhaeuser Co.,Whirlpool Corp. and York International Corp.

Attorney Scott Clearman, lead counsel for OLA and founder of The Clearman Law Firm, says his client took every precaution to protect its valuable idea only to see it replicated in violation of the company's patents and agreements.

"The defendants obviously saw the benefit in OLA's idea, but they apparently didn't think they needed the company's permission to use its patents or to honor their confidentiality agreements," Clearman said in a statement announcing the suit. "It's hard for me to believe that these huge companies didn't know what they were doing when they basically copied our client's process verbatim and collaborated to market it themselves."

In addition to Clearman, OLA also is represented by Brian D. Walsh of The Clearman Law Firm and Matthew J.M. Prebeg, Edward W. Goldstein and Holly H. Barnes of Houston's Goldstein, Faucett & Prebeg.

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