The end of March is always an exciting time for golfers. Spring time is on the horizon, daylight savings has provided us with more sunshine at the end of the day, and the Masters is right around the corner. This year is shaping up nicely - most of the world's top players are playing well early in the season, and Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and Rickie Fowler have each already won this year. But a few weeks before the Masters, a surprising name is making a splash in the golf industry. On Monday, multiple sources reported that Costco Wholesale Corporation has filed suit in the Western District of Washington seeking a declaratory judgment that it does not infringe on eleven patents for golf balls held by Acushnet, the parent company of industry leader Titleist.
Costco first made headlines fall when it released a line of Kirkland Signature golf balls that retailed for $15 per dozen. Reviews at the time on popular golf site Golf WRX compared the Kirkland ball favorably to Titleist's top models, the Pro V1 and Pro V1X, which retail for almost $50 per dozen. In fact, the Kirkland Signature ball is not currently available for sale because the inventory was sold out so quickly.
Acushnet noticed, and allegedly sent Costco what is described as a "threatening letter," citing eleven cases of patent infringement and false advertising. Costco's Kirkland line of products (which is not limited to golf balls) advertise that they "meet or exceed the quality standards of leading national brands," which Acushnet interpreted as a statement that the Kirkland balls are of the same or better quality than Acushnet's offerings.
In its complaint, Costco is asking the Washington federal court to legally declare that it does not infringe upon Acushnet's patents and that it did not engage in false advertising. As support, Costco points out that both golfers and experts have tested their golf ball and concluded it is "at least comparable to balls sold by other leading brands, including Acushnet."
If the Washington court rules against Costco, it is possible that the Kirkland Signature balls may not make a return to stores. Amateur golfers everywhere certainly hope the case will turn out differently.