See you in court!

Sharper Image Corp. is keeping its corporate counsel busy. In late November, the San Francisco-based high-tech gadgets cataloger/retailer sued several catalogers and a manufacturer, among others; then in December, it petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Florida use tax ruling.

On Nov. 27, Sharper Image filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court against a number of defendants, including The Edge Co., a gift catalog owned by Genesis Direct, and apparel cataloger/retailer Neiman Marcus, citing unfair competition. Sharper Image claims that the Truth Machine product sold by The Edge and Neiman Marcus is a copy of its Truth.Seeker, a proprietary voice-stress analyzer, and that therefore the catalogers infringed on a Sharper Image trademark. The suit also named as defendants Truth Machine manufacturer DAKA Development; distributors Mark Feldstein and Import Specialties; and Esquire magazine, which ran Truth Machine ads. Inflight co-op cataloger SkyMall, initially cited in the suit, was dropped after agreeing to stop selling the DAKA product.

“We’re sure this type of infringement will become more common as we increase our proprietary design products,” says Bob Schultz, Sharper Image’s director of new business development. The suit serves as a warning, he adds: “Maybe other manufacturers, catalogers, and retailers will think twice before developing and carrying these knockoffs.”

Fighting Florida Meanwhile, Sharper Image asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case against Florida’s Department of Revenue. In the petition, Sharper Image argues that the state discriminates by imposing a use tax on catalogers while exempting newspapers and magazines. Florida’s use tax is 6% of the cost of catalog production; between ’87 and ’90 the state charged Sharper Image $212,170 in use tax.

The Supreme Court petition follows the September ’98 dismissal of the case by the Florida Supreme Court. If the case is heard by the nation’s top court, it might help to “establish a uniform rule for controlling and collecting tax dollars,” according to a Sharper Image statement.

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