Hillenbrand Unit Seeks to Block Imports of Knockoff Coffins From Mexico

Hillenbrand Inc.’s Batesville unit, the largest U.S. maker of coffins, filed a U.S. trade complaint to stop imports of what it deems knockoff caskets from Mexico.

The complaint, filed yesterday with the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, said Ataudes Aguilares of Guadalajara, Mexico, is bringing caskets into the U.S. that infringe patents related to coffins with attached memorabilia compartments and a mechanism allowing funeral-home directors to swap out ornamental corner pieces.

Batesville said it has four manufacturing plants in the U.S. with about 3,300 workers. Sales of the patented caskets are expected to exceed $130 million this year, according to the complaint. Overall sales were $577.1 million last year, or 89 percent of Hillenbrand’s revenue, Bloomberg data show.

The unit wants the trade commission to prevent closely held Ataudes Aguilares from selling its products in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

“Ataudes Aguilares did not develop these caskets on its own,” Batesville said in the complaint. “Instead, in order to compete against Batesville in selling improved caskets, Ataudes Aguilares entered into contracts to import for sale in the United States caskets manufactured by Ataudes Aguilares, but copied from Batesville patent protected caskets.”

The memorabilia compartment is a drawer in which family members put mementos rather than in a box placed haphazardly in the coffin, Batesville said. In September, the unit sued the funeral homes in Puerto Rico that received the Ataudes Aguilares caskets. Part of the case was dismissed last month, according to court documents.

An official with Ataudes Aguilares couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. A lawyer for the funeral homes didn’t return telephone calls seeking comment.

Cremations, Too

The Batesville unit also provides cremation urns and other services to funeral homes. The company said its plants are in its hometown, Batesville, Indiana; Panola, Mississippi; Manchester, Tennessee and Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The trade commission is a quasi-independent agency that investigates unfair trade practices, including patent infringement, and has the power to prevent products from entering the U.S. It typically completes its investigations within about 15 months of agreeing to consider a complaint.

The case is In the Matter of Certain Caskets, Complaint No. 2738, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Susan Decker in Washington at sdecker1@bloomberg.net.

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