CITY NEWS SERVICE
With two celebrities within their ranks, jurors on Tuesday began deliberating a case brought by the husband-and-wife owners of an El Segundo ad agency, who are seeking more than $240 million from two companies that allegedly stole their idea for marketing a $2 gel pen.
Former “Falcon Crest” star Lorenzo Lamas and Anna Maria Horsford, who had roles in “Amen” and “Friday,” listened intently as attorneys gave their final arguments in trial of the lawsuit brought by Concept Chaser Co. Inc. against the Pentel companies, makers of the HyperG pen.
The jury did not elect either luminary as the foreperson, instead choosing a man whose regular job includes representing the interests of musicians, said Concept Chaser attorney Michael Alder.
The breach-of-contract/fraud suit filed in December 2009 alleges 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 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. They say they hoped to use the Pentel contract to catapult their small agency to prominence.
“There are no legitimate excuses for what they did,” said Alder on behalf of Concept Chaser President Yoshi Hayakawa and his wife, Concept Vice President Clara Goh Hayakawa. “Tell (Pentel) and other companies you have to live with your contracts.”
But 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.
Pentel lawyers say the smooth line concept incorporated a flirtatious connotation — or pickup line — within the contest by asking contest entrants to come up with the “smoothest line.”
Nigolian also scoffed at Goh Hayakaya’s testimony in which she talked about having a strong work ethic. He said she and her husband failed to present a sales plan targeted at professionals, as Pentel requested
“Is giving your client something they never asked for something she believes is a good work ethic?” Nigolian asked.
Nigolian was interrupted during his visual presentation when Lamas asked him to show the jury a document a second time.
“Counsel, I’m sorry, I couldn’t see that,” said the casually dressed, 53-year-old actor.
The 64-year-old Horsford, sitting to Lamas’ left, took extensive notes during the arguments.
Alder, who also is recommending that punitive damages be awarded, said Pentel lawyers did not show jurors anything to disprove his clients’ claim that the contest idea was theirs.
He asked, “Where are the internal documents that say, ‘We (Pentel) created the smooth line contest?’”
But Nigolian said Pentel’s ideas of the smooth line concept to for the HyperG and the contest indeed belonged to his clients. He said there were no documents because much of the promotional material was still being developed.
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.
“He (Nakayama) told me, ‘Of course not, we’re not going to steal,’”Hayakawa said. “Nothing like that.”
Hayakawa said he believed Nakayama because the two had done business together three years earlier.
Pentel maintains the HyperG is waterproof, that its ink will not fade over time and that users will experience “super smooth writing.”
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.