With the wide variety of window treatments available, it is perhaps no surprise that companies that design and sell shutters, blinds and other items spend a significant amount of time and money investigating new patent opportunities. Unfortunately, that drive for innovation and creativity had some unintended consequences for the famed window treatment producer Hunter Douglas: the company’s former in-house patent attorney was recently accused of embezzling over $5 million from his employer.
Jason Throne, 54, was hired by Hunter Douglas in 1993, eventually becoming the firm’s intellectual property general counsel in 2001. This position gave him authority over all of the company’s intellectual property and patent-related endeavors. Unbeknownst to Hunter Douglas, however, Throne had set up a firm called Patent Service Group in 2000, which regularly collected payments ranging from $30,000 to $40,000 for “patent searches.” In reality, Patent Services Group was a dummy corporation Throne was using to fund a lavish lifestyle, which included a waterfront property in Rockport, ME, a boat, several cars, and land in Colorado.
Throne embezzled money by submitting monthly invoices for alleged patent research, which he would prepare on his office computer before faxing them over to the accounts payable department. The first year, he successfully billed Hunter Douglas $285,272. The next year, that amount reached $374,068. By 2013, the year before he was caught, the payments to Patent Services Group reached $476,716. Charging an average hourly rate of $125, one person would have had to work an average of 12 hours a day, seven days a week to equal the amounts Throne was billing.
It wasn’t until a patent engineer, Natalie Hatmaker, questioned the high payments in 2013 that Throne fell under suspicion. He was fired from the company in June 2014 and Hunter Douglas filed a complaint in federal court.
Hunter Douglas is a multinational corporation based in New York that produces a wide array of blinds, shutters and other interior design products. The firm employs more than 17,000 people in 100 different countries, and boasted earnings of $2.3 billion in 2013. Unsurprisingly, Hunter Douglas is currently one of the largest and best known window product manufacturers in the world.
“Its unfortunate that Hunter Douglas had a bad egg in their company,” says Michael Iannone, President at Window Trends. “This is why it is important to ensure a sort of ‘checks and balances’ system where charges are researched and verified by multiple employees to be legitimate.”
Throne has not been criminally charged for his embezzlement, but has been ordered to pay back the $5 million he took from Hunter Douglas over the years. To achieve this, three properties Throne and his wife, Mary, own will be put up for sale. Throne has also been ordered to provide a list of other assets the couple possesses, which may be used to satisfy the court’s judgement. Throne has also been prohibited from releasing any trade secrets he may have learned while working for Hunter Douglas.