A small Ontario hockey supplier is taking on industry giant Reebok-CCM Hockey Inc. in a gloves-off brawl over a popular new stand-up style of wheeled hockey gear bag.
Grit Inc., based in Tottenham, Ont., has filed a case in Federal Court alleging Reebok subsidiary Sport Maska Inc. has started marketing a new hockey bag that is similar to Grit's well-known Hockey Tower. Grit alleges the design infringes on its registered industrial design and patent.
Sport Maska, based in St-Laurent, Que., denies all the claims and says its Reebok 20K hockey bag does not infringe on Grit's designs or patents. The company has counter-sued Grit, alleging the Ontario company has "made false or misleading statements tending to discredit" Sport Maska to distributors and potential customers.
Sport Maska said it had no comment on the dispute.
The Reebok bag isn't in stores yet, but is in a new order catalogue being shown to retailers and suppliers, says Grit founder Greg Collins.
"People say, 'It's just a bag – how can you patent a bag?'" Mr. Collins said in an interview. "But I could spend weeks telling you why we made it the shape we did and all the hurdles we had to go through to get it where it is, and the investment and the pain."
Mr. Collins worked with inventor Aldo Buccioni to develop the Hockey Tower bag, which hit the market in 2006 after both men tapped out their resources and put their houses on the line to finance their new venture.
Since the launch, Grit has seen sales of its distinctive wedge-shaped bags climb to $5-million annually. The bags stand upright and have shelves and spaces for each piece of a player's gear, including skates and pads, and also have a place on the outside to fasten hockey sticks.
The company also sells bags for goalies, game officials, figure skaters and soccer players.
Mr. Collins said Grit felt it had to launch legal action when it saw the new Reebok bag because it believes the designs are similar and it directly threatens years of work by himself and Mr. Buccioni.
"The risks were huge because we not only developed it, we marketed it, we pioneered it, we sold it, we did everything … It's really a story about two guys with an idea, no money, and a lot of determination and dreams who actually built something. And now it's sold all around the world."
The lawsuit is the second of its kind for Grit, which filed a claim in 2010 against Travelway Group International Inc. and Hockey Canada over an upright bag sold in Wal-Mart stores. That case was settled out of court, Mr. Collins said.
Grit's lawyer, Geoffrey North, said manufacturers often make similar consumer products, but they run afoul of industrial designs and patents if they are too close or even identical in design or function.
"The thing about this for Grit is that this is all they do. This is all they make make essentially, whereas Reebok makes all sorts of equipment for the sporting goods industry," Mr. North said.