Chicago Bears practice field subject of lawsuit

The Chicago Bears’ synthetic turf practice field in Lake Forest was installed by UBU Sports, and now a competitor, FieldTurf USA, has sued, saying UBU Sports violated its patent on the turf technology.

FieldTurf has won a similar suit previously, as reported by the Atlanta Business Chronicle in 2015. In that case, FieldTurf prevailed over AstroTurf on claims involving specific measurements of the plastic fibers making up the artificial turf. The Bears have not been sued, the Chicago Tribune said in its report.

The Soldier Field playing surface may routinely resemble a muddy bog come December, but the pristine artificial turf at the Chicago BearsLake Forest practice facility uses stolen technology, a federal lawsuit alleges.

FieldTurf USA says it owns the patent to the plastic and rubber-based turf developed by its founder, French Canadian tennis pro Jean Prevost, which is used by a number of NFL teams including the Seattle Seahawks.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago on Wednesday, it accuses Downers Grove-based UBU Sports of violating its patent when it installed an almost identical product at the Bears’ practice facility.

UBU Sports is “willfully” ripping off the patent and engaging in “me too” competition by copying Prevost’s technology, according to FieldTurf, which previously was awarded $30 million by a federal jury in a similar case it brought in Michigan against another rival, AstroTurf. It is seeking unspecified damages and an injunction stopping UBU Sports from selling products which violate its patent. The Bears are not a party to the suit.

Dennis Van Milligen, a spokesman for UBU Sports, declined to comment on the lawsuit, but acknowledged that the company had supplied the Bears’ practice field and also had laid stadium turf for the Cincinnati Bengals, the New York Jets and Giants, the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings.

The Bears — who as recently as 2014 were reportedly considering switching to an artificial playing surface at Soldier Field — are not in current discussions to resurface the playing surface at their stadium “as far as I know,” Van Milligen added.

Preferred by many schools and local governments for playing fields thanks to its low maintenance costs and improved drainage over grass, synthetic turf has become big business. More than 11,000 fields across the nation are covered in artificial grass, according to the Synthetic Turf Council.

Concerns over potential health risks to athletes from using “crumb rubber” made from ground used car tires to build the artificial fields have in recent years led to manufacturers experimenting with cork and ground up sneaker soles.

The FieldTurf lawsuit filed this week may turn on precise technical details of the fields built by UBU Sports. FieldTurf’s patent describes the ratio of plastic fake grass blades to rubber “infill” sprinkled between the blades.