CITY NEWS SERVICE
With two celebrities within their ranks, jurors on Thursday awarded nearly $33 million to the husband-and-wife owners of an El Segundo ad agency, who alleged that two companies stole their idea for marketing a $2 gel pen.
Former “Falcon Crest” star Lorenzo Lamas and 64-year-old Anna Maria Horsford, who had roles in “Amen” and “Friday,” were on the panel that weighed the case brought by Concept Chaser Co. Inc. against the Pentel companies, makers of the HyperG pen.
The jury deliberated about a day and a half before awarding nearly $15.4 million in compensatory damages, finding that the Pentel firms breached a contract with Concept Chaser and committed fraud. The 10-man, two-woman panel also concluded that the defendants acted with malice, which triggered the punitive damages phase.
The jury deliberated for about an hour in the afternoon before handing the plaintiffs another $17.5 million in punitive damages, bringing the total award to $32.8 million.
The suit filed in December 2009 alleged that Pentel of America, located in Torrance, and its parent firm, Tokyo-based Pentel Co. Ltd., stole Concept Chaser’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 agency’s owners maintained 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. They said they hoped to use the Pentel contract to catapult their small agency to prominence.
“There are no legitimate excuses for what they did,” attorney Michael Alder said on behalf of Concept Chaser President Yoshi Hayakawa and his wife, Concept Vice President Clara Goh Hayakawa, during Tuesday’s final arguments. “Tell (Pentel) and other companies you have to live with your contracts.”
Defense attorney Grant Nigolian told jurors that the ideas Concept Chaser alleges were stolen were developed internally by Pentel, including the smooth writing capabilities of the HyperG and the staging of a contest to promote it and there are documents proving it.
Nigolian urged jurors not to award any punitive damages, saying the company did not need further punishment beyond the compensatory damages.
Lamas embraced Goh Hayakawa as he left the courtroom.
“We all believed it was your idea,” the 53-year-old actor told her in reference to her proposal to pitch the HyperG to college students and stage a contest.
Lamas said he sympathetic to the plight of the Hayakawas.
“I just felt their absolute and utter disappointment,” he said. “This was their big opportunity.”
Lamas also said this was his first time serving on a jury and that he was happy with the experience.
“It takes some time, but I think everybody should do it at one time or another,” he said.
Yoshi Hayakawa testified that Pentel of America President Isseki Nakayama promised him during a meeting in late 2007 that the company would not use the couple’s ideas about pitching the HyperG without paying Concept Chaser.
Nakayama said in January 2008 that the Concept Chaser proposal was not affordable, even though the Pentel executive had said earlier that he had a $1.5 million advertising budget, according to Hayakawa.