In 2004, Lora and Richard Rosene had an idea: Create a way to
heat swimming pools by using an inflatable device that would act
like a magnifying glass, intensifying the sun’s rays. The
result was Solar Sun Rings, and the manufacturer grew at a rate of
230 percent annually, offering its product in five continents,
according to the Rosenes.
But trouble began in 2009, when Wal-Mart officials asked the
Rosenes to provide their product to the discount chain. The couple
declined, not wanting to destroy the relationships they had built
with the 600-odd small businesses selling Solar Sun Rings, said
Then in 2010 a product similar to Solar Sun Rings, called the
“Solar Pad,” began to appear in Wal-Mart stores. When
the Rosenes objected, Wal-Mart’s supplier made an offer to
license the Solar Sun Rings technology but, according to Lora
Rosene, they again declined. Meanwhile, sales of Solar Sun Rings
dropped as the Solar Pad has worked its way into more Wal-Mart
“We’ve lost $3 million in sales so far,” Lora
Now the Rosenes, who employ 10 people in their Temecula, Calif.
operation, have sued Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer,
for patent infringement.
“We spent all this money on patents and somebody comes in
and steals everything,” Lora Rosene said.
Wal-Mart, however, sees it differently. “Wal-Mart respects
the intellectual property rights of others,” stated Randy
Hargrove, a company spokesman. “Four of the five patents at
issue in the case have already been dismissed. Wal-Mart has
investigated the claims regarding the remaining patent and we are
confident in our position that the patent has not been
Yet the court may not agree. On Oct. 31, a federal district
judge rejected a motion by Wal-Mart attorneys for summary judgment,
stating that retail giant had not proven it impossible for a
purchaser to confuse the Solar Pad for the Solar Sun Rings. Another
motion for summary judgment, claiming invalidity of the Solar Sun
Rings patent, also was denied.
On Dec. 5, the Rosenes and Wal-Mart are scheduled to meet in a
Los Angeles court. At issue is whether the Solar Sun Rings qualify
for a patent, and whether Wal-Mart is violating the patent by
selling the Solar Pad.
Solar Sun Rings are made from two sheets of heavyweight vinyl; a
transparent top layer and a dark blue bottom layer, with air
trapped between. The blue layer absorbs about 50 percent of the
sun’s rays, converting that e nergy to heat. The remaining
rays get through to the pool below to provide deep-water heating.
Normally, enough Solar Sun Rings are placed on the pool to cover
about 70 percent of the water’s surface. They’re held
together by magnets on the edge of the rings.