In what is being seen as a victory for small business, Solar Sun Rings has settled a patent-infringement suit against Walmart.

The Temecula, Calif., company produces inflatable rings used to heat swimming pools, and had accused the retailing giant of marketing a substantially similar product.

The settlement was reached Dec. 4, 2012, the day before the case was scheduled to go to trial in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

“The lawsuit was resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties,” said Lora Rosene, Solar Sun Rings CEO.

In 2009, Walmart asked Rosene to supply her product to their stores. She declined, not wanting to disturb the relationships she’d built with the mostly small businesses then selling Solar Sun Rings. The following year, Rosene learned that Walmart was selling a pool heating device similar to Solar Sun Rings, which had been on the market since 2004. Walmart’s supplier then made an offer to license the product’s technology, but Rosene declined.

In the meantime, sales of Solar Sun Rings fell as Walmart moved its Solar Pad into more and more stores. Before the suit was settled, Rosene said her business, which employs 10 people, had lost $3 million in sales. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Solar Sun Rings isn’t the only company to have brought a similar lawsuit against the big-box chain. Corporations as large as Nike have sued Walmart after products substantially similar to a plaintiff’s offerings were seen in Walmart stores.
Most of the suits, such as the Solar Sun Rings case, are settled before trial, with terms of the settlements kept confidential.

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 energy 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.