Battle Between Trendy Stores Heats Up : Ikea to File Lawsuit Claiming Stor Has Infringed on Its 'Unique Concept'

Times Staff Writer

Shoppers strolling through the Stor furniture emporium in City of Industry might see lots of bargains available in an interesting, relaxing atmosphere. However, the owners of the European-based Ikea retail chain see red when they look at Stor.

A hearing scheduled Monday morning in Los Angeles federal court will be the first round of the lawsuit Inter-Ikea Systems BV and Ikea Holding US Inc. filed against International Furniture Inc., the closely held City of Industry company that owns Stor. Also named in the suit is James D. Stadtlander, Stor's president, and Harvey G. Knell, described as an officer and principal of International Furniture.

Ikea is seeking monetary damages, and possibly Stor's profit, for alleged copyright infringement, trademark infringement and unfair competition claims. In sum, Ikea says that Stor copied its "unique concept" for the retail sale of furniture and household goods "in virtually every material respect" right down to such details as the price tags, shopping carts, red jackets worn by employees and the "red trim with gray conveyor belts" on the Ikea checkout counters.

"Defendants have not rested at copying the details of the concept embodied in the Ikea stores, and the names of plaintiffs' furniture and store areas, but have also made, distributed and published a catalogue which is in substantial part copied from Inter-IKEA's copyrighted catalogues," IKEA said in its court complaint.

May Be Lengthy Dispute

The catalogue is the subject of Monday's hearing. But Stor attorney William Billick, of the Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker law firm, said Ikea's main goal is to force Stor to change its entire marketing approach. In its complaint, Ikea asks that Stor be barred from using the 1988 Stor catalogue, certain trade names it says belong to Ikea, a store layout and design it claims that Stor copied and certain other details it says were also copied.

"It is Stor's contention that (the lawsuit) has no substance," Stadtlander read from a company statement. Stor will "vigorously contest the claim." Resolving the dispute may take some time, Stor said. But "in the meantime, it will be business as usual."

In an interview, Stadtlander declined to discuss any alleged similarities between Stor and Ikea, but said: "Our store is quite unique. It is completely different from any other store."

Stor opened last fall in City of Industry and the firm plans a second store in Tustin. Stadtlander said Stor has received "a sensational response from the public." He wouldn't give revenue figures, but he said the store typically attracts about 20,000 to 30,000 people a week. Customers come from as far away as San Diego, he said. The store sells European style furniture shipped directly from factories in flat boxes that buyers can take directly home and assemble themselves. The store, with display space the size of "four football fields" also sells a variety of housewares and furniture accessories. Stor also has a restaurant, first-aid center and a children's play area.

IKEA's complaint objects to Stor's use of "the Ballroom" as a name for its children's play area because that is what it has called its playroom for years. It also said Stor cannot use the term "the Marketplace" to for its housewares and kitchen section because IKEA came up with the name long ago for its own housewares department.

IKEA, a 77-store chain with about $2.1 billion in revenue, was founded in 1953 by Ingvar Kamprad in Almhult, Sweden. IKEA pioneered the sale of low cost, disassembled furniture in Europe. It opened its first U.S. store in 1985 near Philadelphia and in 1986 opened a second in Dale City, Va.

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