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Texas Law Firm Obtains Full Defense Verdict for Michaels Stores in Paint-By-Numbers Dispute

Jun 12, 2024
The Texas Lawbook

Less than three months after being tapped for trial, Dallas lawyers with Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr obtained a full defense verdict for Michaels Stores in a lawsuit accusing the arts and crafts retail company of infringing a small business’ paint-by-numbers art kit and unfair competition.

A federal jury in Dallas’ Northern District of Texas delivered its verdict Thursday after about two hours of deliberation, Munsch Hardt shareholder Jamil Alibhai said. The trial lasted four days in Judge David C. Godbey’s court.

The plaintiffs requested damages of about $412,000 and asked that the damages be trebled for a total of about $1.2 million, Alibhai said.

Florida-based online-only retailer ATC Media, otherwise known as Masterpiece by Numbers, sued Texasbased Michaels after it started selling a paint-by-numbers kit following a meeting between the companies 

In business since 2017, Masterpiece by Numbers contacted Michaels in the summer of 2020 to pitch thecompany on an affiliate agreement. The Florida company’s customers had expressed wishes for frames todisplay their artwork, according to the petition, and the small business sought an agreement that wouldallow them to provide affiliate codes for Michaels’ frames in exchange for a commission.

The companies met in the fall of 2020. Michaels had provided a mutual non-disclosure agreement thatlimited confidential information to purposes of determining whether the companies would collaborate,according to the petition. Masterpiece by Numbers said it shared future product ideas, features, packagingand marketing information.

Communication after the meeting fizzled, Masterpiece by Numbers said.

In early 2022, Masterpiece by Numbers learned Michaels had begun selling a competitive kit called‘Masterpiece Paint by Number Kit.’ The Michaels kit included two framed linen canvas panels, acrylic paintpots, and a paintbrush set packaged in a wide rectangular box and sold for $29.99.

Before meeting with Masterpiece by Numbers, Michaels sold a paint-by-numbers kit, including rolledcanvas sheets, for $14.99. That kit did not contain “masterpiece” in its name.

But the Masterpiece Paint by Number Kit was already in the works in early 2020, Alibhai told The TexasLawbook after the trial, and showing the internal, ongoing development of the product was key to thedefense win. 

The $14.99 kit was doing well at the time and Michaels had conducted a consumer survey to inform thecreation of another version, Alibhai said. The woman who worked on the Michaels product was one of thecompany’s main witnesses, he said.

“They weren’t aware of the plaintiffs’ name, they weren’t aware of the finished product,” Alibhai said. “Theywere just trying to differentiate something they were already selling from their next product offering.”

Plaintiff lawyers with Harper & Bates did not respond to The Lawbook’s request for comment.

Jurors asked to see the box of Michaels’ product and a trial board comparing the two products side-by-sideduring their deliberations, Alibhai said.

Michaels had obtained a judgment as a matter of law on the plaintiffs’ federal trademark, trade secret andbreach of contract claims, leaving the jury to decide on just the common law trademark claim and unfaircompetition question, Alibhai said.

Alibhai and associate Jordan Curry hurried to prepare for the June 3 trial after they were hired March 22,they said. They took over the case from lawyers with Dentons US. It might be the shortest span of timebetween getting hired and going to trial they’ve experienced in their careers, Alibhai said.

Masterpiece by Numbers was represented by Scott Harper, Shannon Bates and Jordyn Hendrix of Harper & Bates.

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