Inventor bent on suing Simmons

Fitness guru, QVC accused of infringement

WASHINGTON — Richard Simmons may have stretched himself a little too thin with one of his latest products, the “Love to Stretch” video and its accompanying stretching strap.

The sweatcassette features a “special stretching cord” that Simmons claims to have designed, but Lewie Dean claims it has more than a passing resemblance to a product he patented. The Vermont inventor, who coaches professional and Olympic skiers, was expected to file a lawsuit Monday in a federal court in Brattleboro, Vt., charging Simmons and TV hawker QVC with patent and trademark infringement.

A QVC spokeswoman would not comment on the case, noting that the company had not yet been officially notified of the lawsuit. Richard Simmons’ staffers did not respond to several calls by press time Monday.

Both straps are made of webbed material and both are colored green (although Simmons opted for a different shade of green).

In addition to patent and trademark infringement, Dean is charging Simmons and QVC with “civil conspiracy.” Dean claims that he offered QVC the opportunity to hawk his product on-air twice and was rejected both times. That refusal made him all the more upset when he picked up USA Today on Dec. 31 and saw a QVC ad that featured a product he said looked similar to his.

Dean had licensed his product to Nordic Track and claims it is regularly used by NBA players. He said that he has a picture of Michael Jordan stretching with the device to prove it. Sharper Image has featured Dean’s product in one its catalogs, as have a dozen other catalog companies.

“The unabashed nature of this theft and conspiracy is scandalous,” Dean’s attorney, Alan Fisch of the D.C. firm Howrey & Simon, said on Friday. “I look forward to confronting Mr. Simmons and QVC executives in deposition and ultimately at trial.”