By MARY FLOOD
June 5, 2010, 12:57AM
A Houston inventor whose medical device turns out to have more market value as an adult novelty item was in federal court on Friday fighting against what he claims are sex toy knockoffs.
“Our business took a major detour when men started using our prostate massager for recreational purposes,” said Amy Sung, executive director of High Island Health, a Houston company named for a translation of her inventor father Jiro Takashima's Japanese name.
The product in question is called a Pro-State massager on the company's white and blue-hued medical website, which features a happy-looking, fully dressed middle-aged couple and promises better health. Massager starter kits start out at $78.50.
The massager is also called Aneros on the company's red and black-colored adult novelty website, which features younger naked people and promises great orgasms. That starter kit goes for $49.95.
British company sued
Sung said once they realized in around 2003 that the product was selling more as a toy than for medicinal purposes she started advertising it to both markets, despite her father's initial reluctance. One of their slogans is, “The sex toy that's good for you.”
Takashima and High Island have sued British company Libertybelle Marketing, also known as Pleasure2Me, and others claiming infringement of the 1998 patent of the plastic massager designed to massage a man's prostate without the use of electrical power.
The design was intended to relieve fluid congestion, but it apparently does more than that for some.
“We started getting calls from men saying things like ... ‘I can last longer in bed,' and asking if that was normal,” Sung said.
She said she now attends conventions both for medical devices, where their booth often brings randy comments, and the adult novelty industry, where the jokes are fewer and the purchasing interest higher.
She said they are often the most popular booth at some medical conventions and rock stars at adult novelty shows.
Her father came up with the product, and some other medical devices he's invented, after a Japanese urologist told him years ago that prostate problems were more common among Americans, Sung said. She said her father's knowledge of how an engine works may have helped him develop this massager that works with muscle contractions.
“Even though the engine work was more challenging, the prostate massager has to be my favorite invention because it's been a greater help to everyone,” Sung translated for her father, who speaks only Japanese.
She said he's in court because he feels the copies have cheapened his work and also might be dangerous because they aren't carefully crafted.
Houston lawyer Charles Rogers was in court Friday defending Libertybelle and others by attacking in preliminary motions whether Takashima's patent was ever properly approved and ever specific enough to be patentable.
Rogers said his clients have not infringed on Takashima's work in any way.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes has yet to decide on the motions that could stop the case in its tracks or send it on to trial.
Even in the austere quiet of the high-ceiling wood-paneled courtroom with its leather chairs and straight-backed occupants, Rogers did make one tiny joke about the subject when he said: “I don't have an expert to rebut that claim. No pun intended,” to the judge.
Sung said that her father's hemorrhoid massager also was developed for medicinal purposes yet took off in sales as a sex toy.
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