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TaylorMade sues Costco over patent infringement on sold-out Kirkland Signature irons

February 02, 2024
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When Costco raised the profile of its interest in the golf business by introducing a line of irons late last year under the Kirkland Signature name with hollow construction and multiple materials, its price point and design claims drew immediate interest, much like its golf balls in recent years. While the iron quickly sold out in a few weeks, the general consensus seemed to be that at a $500 price point, the new irons either were going to dramatically shake up the golf business or end up being too good to be true.

Now one golf manufactuer is suggesting the latter. In court.

TaylorMade, one of golf’s biggest and most innovative companies, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Costco, the wholesale retail giant whose 2023 revenue was nearly $246 billion, or approximately 150 times what TaylorMade sold for back in 2021. The complaint suggests the new Kirkland Signature irons not only violate five TaylorMade patents surrounding its P790 irons, but that Costco also falsely advertises how those irons actually are constructed.

The Kirkland Signature irons retail for $499, but currently are listed as sold out on the Costco website. TaylorMade’s current version of the P790 irons retails for $1,400.

Filed Wednesday in California’s Southern District, the 237 pages of complaint and exhibits from TaylorMade detail patents on iron designs that go back a decade. The primary issue centers on the Kirkland Signature Player’s Iron, an iron that was introduced in late 2023. The lawsuit names both Costco and its contracted design partner for the irons, Southern California Design Corporation (also known as Indi Golf) for violating TaylorMade patents involving many elements of hollow iron design, including an iron with a “dampening filler material,” an iron with a separate face, the welding methods for the face insert, and the positioning of internal weighting in a hollow iron.

According to the complaint, “the design of the accused products [Kirkland Signature players irons] directly copies the patented features of the P790 irons, including features covered by the asserted patents. On information and belief, the design team for the accused products included an engineer who formerly worked at TaylorMade headquarters alongside TaylorMade engineers during the development of the P790.”

While the design of TaylorMade’s current P790 irons differs from the Kirkland Signature irons in question, the defense of the patents that still very much relate to the fundamental design of the current iron is paramount for the company. “Our P790 irons not only revolutionized the filled-iron category, but also invented a new category in Player’s Distance Irons,” said a TaylorMade spokesman. “They quickly became iconic in the marketplace due to their superior technology and performance for all golfers, as well as their overall sales success. So, when another company seeks to imitate our products, we take it very seriously and take immediate action. Not only are we protecting our intellectual property, but we are also seeking to protect golfers who may be duped and misled into thinking cheaper imitations will perform at the same level as the original.”

Neither Costco nor Indi Golf responded to requests for comment.

According to the Costco website, the Kirkland Signature Players Iron featured a hollow design, tungsten weighting and “an injected urethane insert” within the body. TaylorMade’s P790 irons were first introduced in 2017, and were unique for their hollow design, featuring tungsten weighting and a polyurethane foam interior.

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Graphic from Costco website of Kirkland Signature players irons

As detailed in the lawsuit, the Kirkland Signature irons already had drawn comparisons to past-generation TaylorMade’s P790 irons on social media and elsewhere. Even the company’s website graphic of the iron’s design is similar to the graphic TaylorMade used for the second-generation P790 irons when they were introduced in 2019.

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TaylorMade graphic of 2019 P•790 irons.

However, TaylorMade’s lawsuit contends that the Kirkland Signature irons do not contain an injected urethane insert, leading to the complaint for false advertising: “The statement by Defendants that the accused products contain an 'injected urethane insert' is literally false, or in the alternative, is misleading and ... has actually deceived or has a tendency to deceive consumers in a way that influences purchasing decisions. ... Defendants’ false advertising has misled golf journalists and customers to believe the accused products are similar to or equivalent to the TaylorMade P790 irons.”

This may be an important element overall in this particular case. In a report on the current patent law landscape from patent infringement lawyer Michael K. Henry, founder of the Henry Patent Law Firm, “It’s not enough for you to broadly state that patent infringement has occurred, and point generally to the infringing product or service. In fact, the federal pleading standards for patent infringement have become even more rigorous over the last decade, requiring even more specificity to initiate patent litigation in federal court.”

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TaylorMade's 2023 P•790 irons

This is not the first time the P790 irons have been the subject of litigation. PXG sued TaylorMade in 2017 claiming infringement on its iron designs, and TaylorMade subsequently countersued. That disagreement was settled out of court in 2019 with both sides issuing statements and agreeing to “specified rights to make club products under patent cross-licenses.”

It's also not the first time Costco has been involved in legal action with major golf companies. Costco and Acushnet, parent company of the Titleist brand, sued each other in 2017 over golf ball patents. The following year, that case also was settled out of court.