Oral Argument: Ladue-Based Creator of Tongue Vibrators Sues Chinese-Knockoff Vendors

Jun 5, 2012 at 11:50 am
click to enlarge The Lix product by JJK Industries
The Lix product by JJK Industries
When Jeff Klearman of Ladue went surfing online for tongue vibrators this past year, the only part of him to become roused was his ire.

Several websites, he discovered, were selling tongue vibrator models dubbed, "The Tiggler." But Klearman owns the "Tiggler" trademark, as well as the patents on the devices and the exclusive right to distribute them. And these products -- coming out of Chinese factories -- were not his. 

Last week, Klearman's company, JJK Industries, filed suit in federal court against one of the online vendors, the Maryland-based website Painful Pleasures, alleging patent infringement, trademark infringement and unfair competition.

Business is still brisk, Klearman assures Daily RFT, but the threat of knockoffs "has gotten progressively worse."

Klearman says he hatched the idea of a tongue vibrator in the late 90s.

(Mindful that necessity is the mother of invention, we pressed him for juicy details on his eureka moment, but the 51-year-old just laughed and focused on the business side of things. Bonerkill!)

In 2000, his family moved to Texas, where the sale of vibrators was still banned. So when Klearman applied for a patent in 2000 and received it two years later, he called his contraption "energized body jewelry." It ran on low-voltage batteries and could attach to a person's tongue either through a tongue piercing using a screw-top barbell, or with straps for those without a piercing.

The patent is pretty dull, but did include some sexy (and convoluted) innuendos, such as: "attendant advantages will become more fully appreciated as the invention becomes better understood when considered in conjunction with the accompanying drawings..."
Oral Argument: Ladue-Based Creator of Tongue Vibrators Sues Chinese-Knockoff Vendors
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Heavens, is it warm in here?

Soon after his company, JJK Industries, began hawking the barbell product online as "Lix," Klearman learned that another firm in California called KPlus had secured its own patent and was selling something similar: "The Tiggler."

Klearman sued KPlus for patent infringement in June 2002, but KPlus counter-sued with the same gripe, insisting that its application to the patent office had, in fact, preceded its competitor's. KPlus piled on charges of libel and slander.

The opposing lawyers even got into a melee at a deposition in San Francisco, then accused each other of assault and battery.

The TongueJoy vibrator by JJK Industries
The TongueJoy vibrator by JJK Industries
When the dust cleared in 2005, Klearman emerged from the settlement with the rights to his competitor's trademark, "The Tiggler."

Today, he still sells his original product, Lix, along with TongueJoy, which is similar but has straps that allow people without tongue piercings to wear it.

(Acccording to the TongueJoy website, it "is not an 'adult' or 'sex' product," but rather "a micro massager." Mmmhm.)

Klearman says he acquired exclusive distribution rights last July, but a number of sites continue to sell Chinese knockoffs. (JJK's own products are made in South Korea, which the CEO says offers lower tariffs and better quality.) His lawyer, Mark H. Levison from the Lathrop and Gage law firm, sent cease-and-desist letters.

"Most companies were very gracious and volunteered to withdraw from market," Klearman reports. "A few companies have not done so." Hence last week's lawsuit against Painful Pleasures, which has yet to file an answer.

It's a good time to be in the biz, he says -- just look at Trojan's new vibrating rings, now available at Walgreens and Wal-Mart.

"What was formerly kind of an adult novelty is making its way into the mainstream," he says.

Klearman, who also sells insurance, reveals that he's preparing to roll out a new adult product, but declines to drop even a hint of what it might be.

"I'm not trying to be evasive," he explains. "There's a lot of piracy in the business. It's better not to talk about it. Being first-to-market is important. But I'd be happy to send you a sample."

Oh dear.