Originally created 01/12/00

Turf war begins over alleged monopoly



LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A U.S. District Court lawsuit accuses the maker of AstroTurf of infringing on a rival turf-maker's patent and engaging in anti-competitive practices.

The suit, filed last Friday by Dalton, Ga.-based FieldTurf Inc., charges that Southwest Recreational Industries Inc. has "maintained or attempted to maintain monopoly power through predatory pricing, product disparagement, patent infringement and interference with FieldTurf's actual or prospective contractual relationships."

FieldTurf seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and asks that those damages be trebled under federal antitrust law.

Officials at Leander, Texas-based Southwest didn't immediately return phone messages left Tuesday seeking reaction to the lawsuit.

FieldTurf owns a patent on a synthetic playing surface designed to be more grass-like than AstroTurf, which has been described by some players as feeling more like concrete than grass.

A FieldTurf surface features longer blades of synthetic grass than traditional AstroTurf and a subsurface of sand and other resilient material designed to be more forgiving on athletes' bodies than the hard rubber and concrete underneath an AstroTurf surface.

FieldTurf's suit charges that, after it acquired its patent rights in 1994 and started competing in the artificial turf market, Southwest began selling a nearly identical synthetic grass surface called AstroPlay.

The suit claims Southwest has sold AstroPlay surfaces in violation of FieldTurf's patent to facilities in Montclair, N.Y., Watertown, N.Y., Wichita, Kan. and Wilder, Ky., as well as in Spain and England.

In Lexington, the suit claims, Southwest unfairly interfered with FieldTurf's ultimately successful effort to install a FieldTurf surface at Lexington Catholic High School.

"After FieldTurf had won the bidding and received a verbal commitment, Southwest attempted to tamper with the bidding process by disparaging FieldTurf's ability to remain in business," the suit claims. "Southwest also disparaged FieldTurf by (falsely) claiming that a deteriorating sports field in Erie, Pa., was a FieldTurf installation. Finally, Southwest attempted to subvert the bidding process by submitting additional bids for less than its actual cost for the project and bypassing the high school administration with complaints to the Lexington Archidiocese."

Lexington Catholic athletic director Danny Haney didn't immediately return a message seeking comment on the lawsuit's allegations.

The suit claims Southwest has violated the federal Sherman Antitrust Act, as well as Kentucky state laws pertaining to unfair competition.