Tim O’Brien Homes settles lawsuit over home design plans

Nebraska firm had alleged copyright infringement

Design Basics alleged Tim O'Brien infringed on its #2408 Crawford design with its Hawthorn design. Source: U.S. District Court documents.

Tim O’Brien Homes Inc. has settled a lawsuit accusing the Pewaukee-based home building of copyright infringement in three of its home designs.

Design Basics alleged Tim O'Brien infringed on its #2408 Crawford design with its Hawthorn design. Source: U.S. District Court documents.
Design Basics alleged Tim O’Brien Homes infringed on its #2408 Crawford design (above) with its Hawthorn design. Source: U.S. District Court documents.

Omaha, Nebraska-based Design Basics LLC had accused Tim O’Brien Homes, its subsidiary, O’Brien himself and Dan Gorski, vice president of purchasing and design, of copying home plans it had marketed throughout the industry, both online and through trade groups.

The company alleged in court documents that the designs had been used in as many as 160 homes and sought an order awarding it all profits and revenue from the infringements, along with damages. It also sought to block Tim O’Brien Homes from leasing, renting or selling any infringing structures.

But Tim O’Brien Homes contended it had either purchased licenses for the home plans in question or developed them with Somerset Home Planning, an architectural firm with offices in Pewaukee and Madison.

The lawsuit was originally filed in March 2016 in U.S. District Court and the two sides had both filed competing motions for summary judgement. But in December the two sides notified the court they had reached a settlement through mediation and the case was dismissed this week.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed and neither party immediately returned requests for comment.

Design Basics said in court documents it had “regularly and systematically handed-out and/or mailed publications” with its plans to organizations like the Metropolitan Builders Association. It also said Tim O’Brien Homes had also purchased its hosted seminars.

Design Basics said it saw versions of its home design plans on the Tim O’Brien website, but had never licensed their copyrighted works to the company.

One of the plans was used in the first Tim O’Brien home built in 2007. In a court filing, O’Brien said the company purchased licensed home plans for what would become its Hawthorne design from Johnson Creek-based Loos Homes Inc. O’Brien said Loos gave the company permission to modify the plans and build as many homes from them as they wished.

O’Brien said he worked with Somerset to redraw the plans later that year to be able to market it as a Tim O’Brien model, instead of Loos one.

For another model, known at Tim O’Brien as the Cypress plan, O’Brien said he worked with Somerset to develop the plan based off a home he had rented while he was a student at University of Wisconsin-Madison. The home had a T-shaped staircase when one set of stairs led to a landing on the first floor that split with one side going to the kitchen and the other to the foyer.

O’Brien said a third plan involved in the suit, known as Linden, was also developed by Somerset at the request of Tim O’Brien Homes.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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