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Ice fortresses’ legal battle over icicles gets colder


Share This file video from January 2019

RIGBY — Labelle Lake Ice Palace in Rigby and Utah-based company Ice Castles are awaiting a judge’s ruling in a two-year dispute over an alleged patent violation and accusations of defamation.

The lawsuit attracted the attention of national news outlets in December, when the Wall Street Journal published an article highlighting the legal feud between the companies.

The main point of contention in the lawsuit, and now a question that could impact hundreds of ice castles operating around the country, is more complex than it might seem.

What’s an icicle?

In January 2018, Labelle (also spelled LaBelle) Lake Ice Palace in Rigby opened to the public and almost immediately received a frosty greeting in the form of a cease-and-desist letter from a similar company called Ice Castles based in Midway, Utah. Since then, Ice Castles has also filed suit against Labelle Lake for defamation, claiming that Labelle Lake’s response to the lawsuit has been not only improper but also illegal.

“The Defendants (Labelle Lake) have transmitted false, defamatory, and/or misleading statements or information about Ice Castles, Ice Castles’ business practices, prior communications between Ice Castles and the Defendants, and/or the pending litigation between Ice Castles and the Defendants,” Ice Castles stated in court documents, “in order to damage Ice Castles’ business, reputation, and economic relationships, whether existing or potential.”

RELATED | Labelle Ice Palace facing lawsuit for alleged patent violations

Ice Castles’ amended complaint, filed in February 2019, argues that Labelle Lake’s representation of the facts to the media has been harmful to their business. Specifically, they pointed to statements Labelle Lake made to media outlets in Idaho and Utah as an “attempt to sway public opinion.”

Labelle Lake Ice Palace, which began its third year of business in November, features frozen palaces constructed of ice logs and illuminated with northern-light like colors. It’s built to be a winter wonderland, featuring, now controversially, icicles.

LaBelle Lake Ice Palace | file photo

Midway Ice Castles | Facebook

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Ice Castles, which describes itself in court documents to be “an innovator in the construction of ice structures,” applied for and received a patent regarding the construction of icicles in 2013. They claim that Labelle Lake is infringing on that patent by using a similar method of creating their ice structures.

Labelle Lake admits in court documents that their structures may look similar to Ice Palace’s, but they argue that the method they use to create them is completely different.

Jim Youngstrom, owner of Labelle Lake, said that he, unlike Ice Castles, preforms his buildings out “ice logs” and “ice pillars” and then allows the cold winter weather to do most of the work.

“They’re suing us for infringing on a patent,” Youngstrom said. “We’re not infringing.”

Drone video of Labelle Lake Ice Palace courtesy Kira Martin

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Additionally, Labelle Lake argues that it is free to explain its perspective and tell what its claims to be the truth about the case to the media without suffering legal ramifications, according to court documents.

In August 2019, the court denied Labelle Lake’s motion to dismiss both the patent infringement case and the defamation case. Judge David C. Nye, presiding over the Pocatello-based United States District Court, heard oral arguments in November on various terms in Ice Palace’s patent, focusing specifically on how to define an “icicle.” Nye is currently deliberating the outcome of the oral arguments.

Attorneys from both parties declined to comment due to the ongoing nature of the litigation.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, the Youngstrom family said that overall, they just want Labelle Lake to be known not for the battle over the legal definition of an icicle but by the memories made with the people who visit.

“We just enjoy creating a magical atmosphere,” Jim’s wife and co-owner Shannon Youngstrom said. “I think ours is pretty magical.”