Two of the nation’s largest door hardware manufacturers are sparring in court over a re-keying technology that allows a builder, homeowner, or leasing managers to essentially change the lock on a door without actually removing the hardware.

Lake Forest, Calif.-based Kwikset Corp. has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against the Schlage Lock Company of Carmel, Ind., claiming that Schlage’s SecureKey technology infringes on two patents used by Kwikset’s SmartKey system.

Kwikset also alleges false advertising for “false and misleading claims” that Schlage’s SecureKey products are “10 Times More Secure” than other lock products on the market, including SmartKey. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court (District of Delaware), alleges that Schlage’s advertising and packaging for the SecureKey product contains false and misleading statements.

"Our primary goal is, and has always been, the safety and security of our customers,” Brent Flaharty, Kwikset’s vice president of marketing, said in a March 2, 2010, statement regarding the lawsuit. “Kwikset will be as vigilant about protecting our rights to intellectual property as we are about protecting the public."

Schlage responded two days later with a statement of its own, saying that Kwikset's claims “are without merit” and that the suit “was filed for the improper purpose of attempting to impact Schlage's release of the SecureKey rekeyable lock technology into the marketplace.”

“When we set out to design the SecureKey product, we wanted an innovative product that provided a higher level of security than any other product in our channel, not just a new lock,” John Evans, vice president of marketing and product management for the residential solutions sector of Schlage’s parent company Ingersoll Rand, said in the March 4, 2010, statement. "Our SecureKey product includes neither of the claimed features covered by the two Kwikset patents, and we are confident that the statements used in the sale and advertisements of our products, in their entirety, are correct," Evans said.

The lawsuit stems from a SmartKey re-key technology that Kwikset unveiled in 2007. Debuting at the 2008 International Builders Show (IBS), the technology gives contractors and remodelers the ability to re-key locks “in less than 30 seconds,” which eliminates the hassle and cost of removing or replacing locks, Kwikset said during the release of the line.

“With SmartKey, in three simple steps, a potentially compromised or outdated key can be replaced with a new and secure key without removing the lock from the door,” the company said at the time. “SmartKey increases job site security by removing the complexity of a traditional pin-and-tumbler lock, and increases job site efficiency with fewer lock-related callbacks and production delays for the new construction market.

Kwikset said in 2008 that the SmartKey re-key technology stems from its newly patented sidelocking bar system. “Because SmartKey eliminates the typical sheer line, pins and tumbler mechanisms found in traditional lock designs, this locking technology allows industry professionals job site access control," the company wrote.

But fast forward to IBS 2010, when Schlage introduced SecureKey. Claiming that a lock can be re-keyed in two steps—as opposed to Kwikset’s three—Schlage said SecureKey locks and deadbolts employ a new high-security design that enables them to be rekeyed in seconds and without being removed from the door and without compromising security.

“Security is actually enhanced through the use of a pick-resistant Grade 1* cylinder and a special locking sidebar that protects against lock bumping,” Schlage said in the 2010 introduction of its product. “The SecureKey design is 10 times more secure from key duplication than other rekeyable systems on the market.”

It is these claims that have riled Kwikset executives and attorneys and form partly the basis of the lawsuit. Kwikset says in court documents that Schlage has infringed the ‘429 and ‘431 patents by committing at least the acts of infringement in the United States, including offering for sale products that are covered by the patents. The infringement has injured Kwikset, and “they are entitled to recover damages adequate to compensate for such infringement, including lost profits, but in no event less than a reasonable royalty,” the court documents say.

For its part, Schlage says it intends to fully and vigorously defend its rights in the lawsuit and will seek damages for being forced to defend itself against these “baseless claims.” In court filings, the company has asked that Kwikset’s complaint be “dismissed with prejudice on its merits and that Schlage be awarded its costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, in this action.”

Neither Schlage nor Kwikset representatives would comment on the lawsuit.

Nigel Maynard is senior editor, products, at BUILDER magazine.