CITY NEWS SERVICE
Testifying Monday in trial of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit she and her husband filed concerning the marketing of a pen, an executive at an El Segundo ad agency said her plan to help sell the writing instrument was warmly received at first by the companies the couple later sued.
Clara Goh Hayakawa, vice president of Concept Chaser Co. Inc., told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury that she and her husband Yoshi believed their proposed deal with the Pentel companies to target college-age students as buyers of the HyperG pen would help them realize their dreams. Her spouse is the ad firm’s president.
“For so many years, we just buried ourselves into working and hoping one day we would land a major account,” she said. “We’d get our name out there, we’d get credit. But my dream was broken.”
Pentel maintains the HyperG is waterproof, that its ink will not fade over time and that users will experience “super smooth writing.”
In their suit filed in December 2009, Concept Chaser maintains that Pentel of America, located in Torrance, and its parent firm, Tokyo-based Pentel Co. Ltd., stole the firm’s idea to target younger people instead of doctors, lawyers and other professionals as a way of marketing the HyperG in the U.S. and to hold a contest to come up with the best line concerning the pen’s smooth writing aspects.
The Hayakawas maintain the Pentel companies rejected their marketing plan for the HyperG in 2008 after claiming it was too expensive, but then used their ideas anyway without paying them.
Attorney Michael Alder, on behalf of the ad agency, said Pentel went so far as to award a trip to Panama City, Fla., and an Apple product to the winner of its “smoothest-line” contest — exactly what Concept Chaser proposed in meetings with Pentel officials in November 2007. His clients are seeking damages of more than $240 million.
Pentel lawyers say the idea to run a contest among college students was developed internally, as was the idea of incorporating a flirtatious connotation — or pickup line — within the contest by asking contest entrants to come up with the “smoothest line.”
Goh Hayakawa testified that Pentel contacted her husband via email to get his ideas to market the pen. She said that after analyzing the writing instrument and its components she did not believe professional workers would be inclined to buy the HyperG because they would not find anything special about a pen that sells for $2.
“I thought to be more effective, we should get the college market,” she testified. “When I believe in something, I’m stubborn.”
She said she did not disregard Pentel’s request for a plan to focus on professional workers, but believed it would not bring the company the financial success it desired.
“I did not ignore the client’s request concerning the professional market, but they just do not care about two-dollar pens,” she said.
Goh Hayakawa occasionally became emotional during her testimony, including during her account of how Pentel America President Isseki Nakayama allegedly made a sexist remark when told by the woman’s husband that his spouse had come up with their marketing proposal.
“He said, ‘How can a great idea like this come from a woman, especially an Asian woman?’” she testified. “I said to myself, ‘Oh God, because I’m a woman, I’m going to lose this account.’”
However, she said Nakayama said he wanted to get the plan to Pentel’s parent company right away.
“He said, ‘Japan is going to like this (and) I need to get this presentation to Japan as soon as possible,’” according to Goh Hayakawa.
But then her husband returned from a meeting with Nakayama in January 2008 with the news that the deal was not going through after all. She said the couple decided to approach Pentel a year later to see if their finances had improved, but then saw on the company’s website that they had gone ahead with a contest very similar to what she had proposed.
“I felt like my brainchild was robbed from me,” she said.