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NEW YORK — Call it the Battle of the Shapewear Pioneers.
A legal dispute is shaping up between Sara Blakely, founder and owner of Spanx Inc., and Heather Thomson, president of Times Three Clothier LLC and creator of the Yummie Tummie lifestyle brand.
The two high-powered women entrepreneurs are disputing the validity of patents for shapewear products owned by Thomson, who claims that Blakely knocked off several patented control tops.
The seed of the dispute was planted last November when Thomson said she received a package at her Seventh Avenue offices that contained an anonymous note and a control tank top bearing a Spanx label which the note claimed was being sold on QVC.
“I immediately recognized it as my original Yummie Tummie tank. We contacted Spanx by letter [through legal counsel] on Jan. 18 to notify them that they were infringing on my patent ideas and we asked them to cease and desist,” said Thomson. “Spanx then asked for a [one-month] extension to be able to do their own due diligence.…They responded on Feb. 14 saying they didn’t think there was any patent infringement and requested another extension.”
Thomson noted that further communication by letter and telephone was “positive” until Times Three received a declaratory judgment filed by Spanx in the Northern District Court of Georgia on March 5. In the lawsuit, Spanx contends that its products, including The Total Taming Tank, The Top This Tank style and The Top This Cami style, “have not infringed and do not infringe any valid claim of the patents-in-suit.”
Blakely — who started her brand in 2000 by cutting off the legs of control-top tights and creating a shapewear bottom — did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. An e-mailed statement from Spanx said: “Spanx was making shaping camisoles long before Yummie Tummie. We have no further comment. The papers filed in court provide our position at this time.”
Spanx — which generates estimated annual wholesale revenues of about $225 million to $240 million — sells its product in major department and specialty stores and boutiques in more than 50 countries, as well as on spanx.com.
Thomson, who created her company in 2008, sells shapewear and ready-to-wear separates by Yummie Tummie and Yummie by Heather Thomson jeanswear in more than 1,000 doors domestically and more than 600 doors internationally. Thomson also sells her products on HSN and yummielife.com. Thomson would not give an annual sales volume, but estimated retail sales are $60 million, industry experts said.
This is not the first time Thomson — a star of the reality TV series “The Real Housewives of New York,” and a former stylist for Sean John by Sean Combs, Sweetface by Jennifer Lopez and House of Deréon by Beyoncé Knowles — has sought patent protection for her Yummie Tummie shapewear designs.
Times Three filed a lawsuit in December 2011 against LF USA Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of privately held Li & Fung Ltd., the Hong Kong-based sourcing and apparel manufacturing conglomerate. The lawsuit, which alleged that LF USA infringed several of its patents under the Logo Instant Chic by Lori Goldstein brand, was settled in June 2012 for an undisclosed sum. In August 2011, a $6.75 million settlement agreement was reached between Maidenform Brands Inc. and Times Three. The litigation involved copyright design patent infringement of Yummie Tummie designs and Maidenform’s multimillion-dollar Fat Free Dressing by Flexees line of shapewear.
Regarding the row with Spanx, Thomson said she won’t “scream uncle.” “I hope she’s ready for war because I will not lie down,” stated Thomson.