Knoll Sues Allsteel for Alleged Patent Violation

On May 24, 2011, New Zealand design firm Formway Furniture Ltd. filed U.S. Design Patent No. D638,232 for a new side chair that eventually became the MultiGeneration by Knoll Chair. It has a steel frame, plastic shell and arms supported from the lower leg. The shell is perforated plastic and comes in a number of colors.

 Allsteel Lyric

Allsteel Lyric

While some might think it is just another side/stacking chair, Knoll and Formway believe it has some unique design features. And they feel Allsteel's Lyric Multi-Purpose Chair looks a little too similar to MultiGeneration.

Knoll and Formway filed a patent violation lawsuit last week against HNI and Allsteel claiming Lyric was designed to “mimic the design of the MultiGeneration by Knoll chair to develop, make, and sell a chair that would compete with the MultiGeneration by Knoll chair so that the Lyric MultiPurpose chair would have the same look as the MultiGeneration by Knoll chair but would have a lower price point for competition with the MultiGeneration by Knoll chair. On information and belief, these actions were done to try and take market share away from Knoll's MultiGeneration by Knoll chair with a chair that had substantially the same ornamental appearance as Knoll's MultiGeneration by Knoll chair.”

 Knoll MultiGenerations

Knoll MultiGenerations

According to the lawsuit, the Lyric Multi-Purpose chair has an “ornamental appearance” almost identical to the ornamental appearance of the MultiGeneration. The lawsuit goes on to say consumers are “likely to be confused into thinking” the Lyric is the same chair as the MultiGeneration and an ordinary observer “would be deceived into thinking” Lyric and MultiGeneration are the same.

“HNI and Allsteel have each willfully, deliberately, and intentionally continued to infringe the claim of the (MultiGeneration) at least by using, offering to sell, selling, distributing, offering to distribute, and making its Lyric Multi-Purpose chair in reckless disregard of the claim (of the patent),” according to the lawsuit.

At issue is the Allsteel Lyric Multi-Purpose, which is one chair in what Allsteel calls “a comprehensive collection of seating” that includes high-back and mid-back task, multi-purpose and side chair options.

The Allsteel Lyric Multi-Purpose (armless) list price is $261. The MultiGeneration by Knoll multipurpose stacking chair (armless) lists for $276.

The two chairs certainly look similar, which could be said about a lot of steel and plastic stacking chairs in the industry. It will be up to the courts to determine if they look so similar it would confuse the consumer.

Knoll describes the MultiGeneration by Knoll: “The full, curved back allows for upper body movement and supports the lower back for upright, interactive postures, while a gently contoured seat with rounded corners and a cantilevered arm design lets you shift positions easily. The arms feature contoured arm pads to lean against when side sitting.

“The flexing shell of the seat provides comfort and promotes natural movement without the need for a mechanism.

“The back of the chair, while visually simple, is designed for performance. The perforated back makes the chair more breathable than typical shell chairs. The rolled top edge serves as an armrest for side sitting and a handle for easy transport.”

Formway Furniture Ltd. holds the actual patent to the chair while Knoll holds an exclusive license to the patent.

Allsteel launched the Lyric family of task, side and multipurpose seating in June 2016, calling it “a design-conscious seating collection for today's activity-based workplace.” It was designed, according to Allsteel, in partnership with Wolfgang Deisig, founder of the Berlin-based studio Deisig Design. The Lyric task chair, the first product in the collection to be introduced, is intended for use at workstations or in conference rooms. The side chair was introduced later that year.