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Who Came First? Local Business Embroiled in Lawsuit over Bras

November 25, 2013

A local business has found itself in the middle of an international lawsuit, and the cost of fighting keeps on growing.

Keswick resident Suzanne Nash has been working on her startup business, Mirage Apparel, with her business partner, Carl Robinson. Robinson says he came up with the idea of pockets for brassieres to hold credit cars, keys or phones.

"After I saw what he was doing and looked at the background, I said, 'It's a great idea. I know I could market it," Nash said.

Nash works out of her Keswick home, and Robinson lives in London.

They pride themselves on their product -- a flexible bra with built-in pockets to ensure good fitting. But in April 2012, things changed.

"I didn't see it coming," Robinson said in an interview Monday. "It completely tore the rug out from under me."

Students taking part in a business competition at the University of Washington debuted the JoeyBra, marketed as a bra with a pocket. Creators Kyle Bartlow and Mariah Gentry spoke about the product to KOMO News in Seattle in October 2012.

"Originally, it was my idea," Bartlow said.

"I said, 'Oh my goodness, why hasn't anyone thought of this before?" Gentry said.

But Robinson says he did think of it first.

"I do own the intellectual property for it. We do own designs," he said. "I'm baffled to a certain point, to tell you the truth, how they have the audacity to do it. But they got away with it in broad daylight."

Robinson filed patents for his invention in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The patent expired in Australia in November 2010.

His American patent is in force until 2015, and the British patent is in force until 2037.

"There had never been pockets on the wing of a bra prior to Carl coming up with the idea," Nash said.

The controversy with the JoeyBra has cost Nash and Robinson time and money. They are not moving along with their distribution in the U.S. as quickly as they'd like. And they estimate they've spent $40,000 on legal fees, trying to fight the JoeyBra founders.

Robinson says there are similarities between his original idea and patent in Australia dating back to 1999 and the JoeyBra setup. At the time in an official document, he was praised for his "joey concept" pocketed lingerie. His trademarked logo was a kangaroo.

Despite similarities in both the name and the logo, JoeyBra founder Bartlow maintains his idea is original.

"[Robinson has] a pocket that's on the inside of the bra," he said in October 2012. "So obviously, ours is on the outside, which is already a large difference."

Nash has checked out the JoeyBra and says the difference is in the quality. She said the pocket is installed directly onto the bra material instead of being its own component on the bra, like the one she and Robinson are marketing.

"They had completely duplicated the concept," Robinson said.

A lawyer representing JoeyBra said in an email Monday the company stands by the statement that their idea is original. Attorney Philip Mann said the company had "no prior knowledge" of Robinson or his patent until the case was filed.

"I think it's very clear that he's the originator of the idea," Nash said of Robinson.

The two say they vow to continue fighting to get proper credit for the invention.

"They were very methodical in what they had been doing," Robinson said of the JoeyBra founders. "They know exactly what they've done."

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