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Bob Vila, TV Carpenter, Takes Control Fight to Court

June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Bob Vila, former host of the “This Old House” home-improvement show, asked a judge to dissolve a company that holds rights to his name and image, as part of a dispute with a longtime business associate.

Vila, who spent 28 years offering home-improvement tips over the airwaves before his last syndicated series was canceled in 2008, told Delaware Chancery Court Judge Leo Strine Jr. he wants to break up a holding company that controls his likeness because he doesn’t agree with his partner’s business approach. Vila and George Hill have co-managed the company for a decade.

“I filed this lawsuit to get back my name, my intellectual property and my trademarks, which were taken over by people I don’t consider commensurate with the importance of the brand,” Vila told Strine as a trial began today in Wilmington.

Vila, who has served as a pitchman for Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s Craftsman tool line, said Hill is mismanaging BVwebties LLC, which holds legal rights to Vila’s “name, image, likeness, photograph and signature,” according to court papers. Sears is the largest U.S. department-store chain.

The company also operates the BobVila.com website, which offers a home-improvement blog and a real-estate search engine. Since 2007, Hill has squashed efforts to hire professional managers to help the website grow, Vila said in his January 2009 lawsuit.

Profit Declines

Vila also claims the company’s profits have declined by more than 50 percent and “the Bob Vila name and brand has not been utilized to create maximum value for the company,” according to court filings.

The agreement covering the company’s founding “does not contain an exit provision pursuant to which the dispute between Vila and Hill may be resolved,” the filings said. Since the company was incorporated in Delaware, Vila is asking Strine to decide the case.

Hill counters in his court filings that “there is no deadlock within” the Boston-based company and it continues to operate normally.

In a seven-year span starting in 2002, Internet visitors to BobVila.com have increased from 70,000 to 2.75 million and more than 1.2 million people have receive home-improvement tips via Twitter, Hill’s lawyers noted.

Vila’s business consultant says the website may be worth as much as $24 million and the company may be able to generate operating profits of $3.5 million, Hill’s attorneys wrote.

“The entire thrust of Vila’s actions and of this litigation has been an attempt to create the appearance of a deadlock so that he can seize for himself corporate opportunities that belong to the company,” Hill’s lawyers said in a filing last month.

Sears Holdings Corp., based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, fell 64 cents to $83.72 at 12:44 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading.

The case is Robert J. Vila v. BVwebties LLC, 4308, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).

To contact the reporters on this story: Dawn McCarty in Wilmington, Delaware dmccarty@bloomberg.net; Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware, at jfeeley@bloomberg.net.

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