Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Press Makers Battle It out in Court

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Press Makers Battle It out in Court

Article excerpt

Charges of industrial espionage, antitrust violations and deceptive trade practices have been added to the long-running legal battle between Rockwell Graphics Systems Inc. and DEV Industries.

The seven-year-old dispute, which has never been to trial, began as a complaint by Rockwell that DEV had stolen Rockwell trade secrets to manufacture a virtual clone of Rockwell's popular Community Press.

Now DEV has opened a second front in the legal war.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago in early November, DEV alleges that Rockwell and several of its top officers "since the mid- to late-1980s . . . have been engaged in a complex and integrated scheme to eliminate DEV as a competitor and drive it out of business."

DEV's latest complaint adds another colorful set of allegations to a Bleak House of a case already peopled with a Dickensian cast that includes treacherous employees allegedly spiriting off confidential designs; a blunt-talking Chicago cop turned private eye; and lawyers who struggle during depositions to remember just exactly what RICO is an acronym for.

For instance, the DEV lawsuit claims that two high-ranking Rockwell executives managed to talk their way into a DEV assembly area and were given a detailed tour of the 1400 press line -- to the point they were able to inspect certain press parts.

"We could have built a unit by the time we left," one of those managers is alleged to have bragged to DEV's field service manager.

DEV's complaint also portrays Rockwell salespeople and managers in exotic locations ranging from New Orleans to Rome to Selang, Malaysia, disparaging DEV's products and threatening to put the company out of business.

Serious issues

Despite their occasional diverting moments, however, both the original Rockwell suit and DEV's various responses raise serious issues of intellectual property, fair competition, and international marketing.

When, for instance, Rockwell was handed a big victory by the 7th Circuit U.S. appeals court last February, Judge Richard Posner declared that America's industrial future itself would be served by giving Rockwell its day in court.

"This is an important case because trade secret protection is an important part of intellectual property, a form of property that is of growing importance to the competitiveness of American industry . . . . The future of the nation depends in no small part on the efficiency of industry and the efficiency of industry depends in no small part on the protection of intellectual property," Posner wrote.

DEV can also point to its own ringing declarations from a judge.

For example, when on Jan. 31, 1990, District Judge Ann C. Williams originally threw out the Rockwell case--ruling for DEV on all counts--she characterized Rockwell's arguments as variously "transparent . . . irrelevant . . . superficial . . . [and] commerical."

It is not surprising that the case arouses high feelings.

Bitter history

This is a dispute, after all, that pits two companies from virtually the same neighborhood -- Rockwell Graphic Systems is headquartered in Westmont, Ill., and DEV Industries is located a few miles away on Route 83 in Bensenville -- whose principals know each other fairly well -- several of DEV's top officers once worked at Rockwell -- and who compete in many of the same markets.

There are differences, too, between the companies, especially in size.

Rockwell Graphic Systems is a giant, reporting sales of about $1.4 billion last year. DEV says its sales at the same time were about $25 million.

That revenue disparity reflects a market share disparity as well, and DEV was an upstart in the early summer of 1984 when it introduced its first printing press to compete directly with a Rockwell product.

The legal dispute between Rockwell and DEV began about two months later, on Aug. …

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