(CABOT, Pa.) — In the small town of Cabot, Pa., Dan Brown is the proud inventor of the Bionic Wrench, a product made solely in Pennsylvania.
His goal from day one was to make his invention in America.
This time last year, Brown’s factory was buzzing, with his employees working overtime to fulfill holiday orders. With the help of Sears, Brown’s company sold more than 200,000 wrenches at Christmas alone.
“Last year was a great year,” Brown said. “We got ourselves on a commercial and Sears had us in stores. We were going crazy.”
Brown says he agreed with Sears not to sell his bionic wrench to any other national chain such as Lowe’s or Home Depot. Brown’s company continued business this year but suddenly there was no deal from Sears for Christmas.
Brown had three production lines working to fill orders last year. But this year, there’s only one running and he has had to lay off 30 workers.
“We were building at a forecast that Sears had given us, then they just cancelled it,” Brown said. “We built so much ahead trying to avoid the overtime that we were going through in previous years that we got caught now.”
When Sears suddenly went quiet, Brown wondered what was going on.
“We had an arrangement. Last year was our first test on TV and it went extremely well,” Brown said. “They [Sears] kept delaying it and delaying it and we didn’t know what was going on. They really wanted to get the Father’s Day orders in but they didn’t want to commit to Christmas, which is much larger than Father’s Day. It just didn’t make sense.”
Brown heard from a customer that there was now another wrench on the shelves at Sears with what appeared to be a similar mechanism. But this one, made in China, is sold under the Sears brand, Craftsman.
Brown wasn’t surprised by the new wrench, he said.
“It’s a knockoff. There’s no question,” he said. “If you take them apart and look at the plates, they’re virtually the same. … It’s our patent. We’ve got it covered.”
Brown has now filed a lawsuit, claiming Sears stole his idea. He is being represented by the Grossman Law Offices.
But Sears argues it didn’t steal anything.
“The allegations made by Mr. Brown simply are untrue and we will vigorously defend against all of the allegations raised in his lawsuit,” Sears Holdings Corp. said in a statement to ABC News. “Despite some visual similarities to other tools on the market, the Craftsman Max Axess locking wrench operates in a different way, using a mechanism designed in the 1950s that Mr. Brown expressly argued to the patent office was different from his own design.”
Brown stands by his claim, however.
“They’re lying. That’s what I say, they’re lying,” he said. “There’s no other way. And I don’t call other people liars easily, but there’s no question in my mind.”
Brown argues that small-town American inventors like him rarely have the means to fight back against big businesses. It can cost up to $50,000 just to get that original patent and then most inventors can’t afford a court fight against a corporate giant.
“I think they [Sears] thought they’re really big and we’re too small to fight them effectively to bring them to a position where they couldn’t get away with it,” Brown said. “They’re not going to get away with it. I’m not crazy enough to go against the tide to let this just go away now. This is fundamentally why we don’t have jobs in the states.”
As for Sears, the company says that it has 264,000 U.S. workers and that “Sears believes in America.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Heather Long, CNN
Kathryn Vasel, CNN