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Sunglass Firms Settle but Still Seeing Red

Courts: Neither company admits wrongdoing in dispute over design. Bitterness between firms continues.

March 06, 1997|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oakley Inc. and Arnette Optical Illusions on Wednesday announced a $750,000 settlement of a lawsuit over a contested sunglass design, but the agreement failed to end a bitter war of words between the two competitors.

Top executives at the Orange County-based sunglass manufacturers each issued statements that put a decided spin on the terms of the settlement involving Steel Raven model sunglasses designed and sold by San Clemente-based Arnette Optical.

"Far beyond the monetary reward, we interpret this settlement as an important message for those who copy or steal our proprietary designs and technology," said Oakley founder and Chairman Jim Jannard, whose company brought the suit in 1994.

"This settlement burns at me inside, because I know the truth, and so does Jim Jannard," countered Arnette founder and President Greg Arnette, who dismissed the $750,000 accord as a "nuisance value settlement."

The settlement, brokered Tuesday by a state Superior Court judge in Santa Ana, came as lawyers for the two companies were selecting jurors to try the case. The suit marked the latest chapter in a bitter dispute between Arnette and Jannard, two sunglass industry executives who used to work together.

"It's sad to see because Greg and Jim used to be great friends," said Jonathan Paskowitz, founder and co-president of Black Flies, a Costa Mesa-based sunglasses manufacturer. "This is more proof that something in that friendship has gone severely wrong."

Arnette joined Irvine-based Oakley in 1985 and left in 1991. Within months, he had formed his own sunglass company in San Clemente. The firms had previously sued each other in a civil action that also was settled with neither side acknowledging wrongdoing.

The latest suit revolved around Steel Raven, a design that Arnette began marketing in 1991. Oakley's suit maintained that Jannard crafted the design in the spring of 1991 and that Arnette took the design with him when he left Oakley.

Arnette maintained that he designed the glasses, adding on Wednesday that he "would have relished trying the case and clearing my name of these ridiculous allegations."

"We think the $750,000 speaks for itself," said Greg Weeks, a San Diego-based attorney who represented Oakley in the action.

Arnette Optical is now owned by Rochester, N.Y.-based Bausch & Lomb.

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