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Hillenbrand unit seeks to block imports of knockoff coffins

June 11, 2010

Hillenbrand Inc.’s Batesville unit, the largest U.S. maker of coffins, filed a U.S. trade complaint to stop imports of what it deems are knockoff caskets from Mexico.

The complaint, filed this week with the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, D.C.,said Ataudes Aguilares of Guadalajara, Mexico, is bringing caskets into the U.S. that infringe patents related to coffins with attached memorabilia compartments and a mechanism allowing funeral-home directors to swap out ornamental corner pieces.

Batesville said it has four manufacturing plants in the U.S. with about 3,300 workers. Sales of the patented caskets are expected to exceed $130 million this year, according to the complaint. Total sales were $577.1 million last year, or 89 percent of Hillenbrand’s revenue, Bloomberg data show.

The unit wants the trade commission to prevent closely held Ataudes Aguilares from selling its products in the United States and Puerto Rico.

“Ataudes Aguilares did not develop these caskets on its own,” Batesville said in the complaint. “Instead, in order to compete against Batesville in selling improved caskets, Ataudes Aguilares entered into contracts to import for sale in the United States caskets manufactured by Ataudes Aguilares, but copied from Batesville patent protected caskets.”

The memorabilia compartment is a drawer in which family members put mementos rather than in a box placed haphazardly in the coffin, Batesville said. In September, the unit sued funeral homes in Puerto Rico that received the Ataudes Aguilares caskets. Part of the case was dismissed last month, according to court documents.

The trade commission is a quasi-independent agency that investigates unfair trade practices, including patent infringement, and has the power to prevent products from entering the U.S. It typically completes its investigations within about 15 months of agreeing to consider a complaint.
 

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