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Green Bay firms sued over home designs

By: Beth Kevit//May 23, 2014//

Green Bay firms sued over home designs

By: Beth Kevit//May 23, 2014//

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A Nebraska company is suing three Green Bay businesses and the two men who own them, claiming the Wisconsin firms used copyrighted blueprints to build homes and passed the designs off as their own.

Omaha-based Design Basics LLC, which designs single-family and multifamily houses, has alleged Best Built Inc., a homebuilder; Hansen Development Corp., a real estate firm; and contractor Steven Kassner Construction Inc. infringed on copyrights for six home designs. Steven Kassner, who owns Steven Kassner Construction, and Craig Kassner, who owns Best Built and Hansen Development, also were named in the lawsuit, filed Thursday.

Neither Steven Kassner nor Craig Kassner had been served with a copy of the lawsuit, according to court records. Steven Kassner declined to comment, and Craig Kassner did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

According to the federal lawsuit, the Green Bay companies and businessmen violated copyrights on Design Basics’ blueprints since at least May 25, 2011. On that date, Design Basics representatives noticed Best Built was advertising six home designs on its website that the Nebraska firm claims in court documents to have registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

The names of the home designs differed, such as Best Built advertising a “Calgary” model that Design Basics claims to be its “Plainview,” according to the lawsuit, but at least one home was built using Design Basics blueprints.

Steven Kassner Construction ordered 52 plan books from Design Basics between Jan. 7, 1992, and June 9, 2000, according to the lawsuit, but neither the contractor nor Best Built bought licenses to build from those plans.

Design Basics has six other copyright infringement cases pending in Wisconsin. A seventh case was settled Wednesday.

James Boyle, an attorney with Milwaukee-based Boyle Fredrickson SC, who represents defendants in two of the pending cases, said he read the most recent complaint Friday morning. He said Design Basics’ complaints seem to follow a formula alleging construction companies and homebuilders infringed on copyrighted plans, but the lawsuit against the Green Bay companies includes an unusual request.

In its complaint, the first document filed in a lawsuit, Design Basics requested a permanent injunction that would bar the owners of any homes sold by the Green Bay companies from selling or renting out the properties.

“Absolutely no chance they’ll get that,” Boyle said. “That’s a very unusual request.”

Sometimes plaintiffs can get injunctions that bar a sale only until a lawsuit is resolved, said Mark Hinkston, an attorney with Racine-based Knuteson, Hinkston & Quinn SC, who is not involved with any of the Design Basics lawsuits but has experience with similar cases. But, in the complaint against the Green Bay companies, no homeowners are named as defendants.

“I don’t think that the court would order an injunction against homeowners who aren’t party to the suit,” Hinkston said, “because I think a court would say, ‘Well, the animal’s already left the barn.’”

Michael Hopkins, an attorney with Milwaukee-based Hopkins McCarthy LLC, who represents Design Basics, said he does not intend to trap homeowners in their homes, but the request, if granted, also would prevent the Green Bay companies from selling other homes built from the blueprints.

The injunction, he said, would be similar to a judge ordering unauthorized copies of a video be seized and destroyed, though Design Basics does not want anyone’s home to be demolished.

According to the lawsuit, Best Built and the other defendants adapted the Design Basics plans, built homes and sold them. The plaintiffs claim the defendants intentionally removed Design Basics’ copyright notice from the original plans.

Hopkins said damages can be recovered in court even if the companies did not intend to violate the copyrights. But if he can prove they knew they were infringing, he said, Design Basics could win more money at trial.


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