RIGBY, Idaho — When Jim Youngstrom and Kira Martin started building their ice palace in 2017, neither could have imagined they’d be facing a lawsuit.
Now, the legal battle between Labelle Lake Ice Palace and Utah-based Ice Castles, LLC, is heating up. Ice Castles, LLC is arguing the east Idaho business is infringing on their patented process of building structures with icicles.
“The first day we opened in January, we got a cease and desist from them,” Jim Youngstrom, owner of Labelle Lake Ice Palace, told KID NewsRadio. “We got a very credible patent attorney out of Utah and he assured us time and time again that we are not infringing in any way…[the owner of Ice Castle, LLC is] just really trying to bully us and that’s what he did through the whole winter last year, and we’ve had to waste a lot of our resources and our time trying to defend ourselves to these guys.”
Ice structures are nothing new. The tradition stems from countries like Finland and Switzerland, and St. Paul Minnesota hosts an annual Winter Carnival where ice palaces are a main attraction. But, under U.S. Patent US8511042B2, Ice Castles, LLC has outlined a specific process for creating icicles and uses this method for their several locations. Youngstrom said Labelle Lake Ice Palace uses a completely different process and creates ice logs for their structures.
“We pre-form all of our ice and create ice logs,” Youngstrom said. “Structurally, you can’t direct the strength very good with an icicle because of the way, the dripping process, they could snap very easily…and we’ll have pillars…we can take these and target them where we need the strength and pre-engineer so we can do our tunnels, we can do staircases…everything’s pre-done…I coudn’t even imagine it with icicles. What a nightmare that would be.”
Labelle Lake Ice Palace isn’t the first to hear from Ice Castles, LLC. As the palace has remained in business, Youngstrom said he’s had people approach him with their own stories of legal threats over patent infringement. Stories like these, he said, have compelled him to fight the lawsuit.
“We’ve had people come to us out of Utah that were being harassed by them,” Youngstrom said. “They were building ice structures in their yard and they were shutdown by Ice Castles because they were building out of icicles…They didn’t have the resources, they didn’t want to fight them, they just shut down building these ice structures with icicles in their yard.”
While Youngstrom maintains his east Idaho ice structure is not infringing on a patent, he and his attorneys take issue with the patent and its history.
“When they applied for the patent it was denied the first time,” Youngstrom said. “The reason it was denied is because it had been public information for longer than one year and so they went to their attorneys and the patent office had proof of this and they said, ‘You’ve been doing the blogs on your process for like the last two or three years,’ and so their attorneys came back and said, ‘Listen, you can’t prove the public has seen these blogs,’…and anyway they got into a legal battle with them, the patent office folded, said, ‘Okay, we will award you because we can’t prove it.’ So, they did get a patent.”
But, Youngstromn says his attorneys have found otherwise and in their battle to keep Labelle Lake Ice Palace open, they’re putting the original patent into question.
“We may get that revoked, totally 100 percent taken from them,” Youngstrom said.
Legal battles cost money and Youngstrom said they’ve been told by Ice Castles, money will be no issue in their effort to win the case.
“[The owner of Ice Castles, LLC] called and said, ‘This is the last conversation you’re going to receive from me. If you guys do this, we’re going after you hard. We have $500,000 set aside, just to put anyone out of business that’s going to be trying to do this,'” Youngstrom said.
Youngstrom and Kira Martin, Director of the Labelle Lake Ice Palace, said they’ve started a GoFundMe to help cover the costs of fighting back against the suit.
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“The GoFundMe, it was created to help with legal fees, all the money that we are getting from the Ice Palace that we are generating is going straight into legal fees – we’re just worried it’s not going to cover it,” Kira Martin told KID NewsRadio.
Despite the legal challenges they’re facing, Youngstrom said the experiences he sees people have at Labelle Lake Ice Palace are what keeps him and his staff going.
“Seeing the enjoyment that we have with the kids going down the tube hills you know where the people have these horse drawn sleigh rides,” Youngstrom said. “It’s just, those are things that you can’t put a dollar amount on enjoying something that, you know, family activities, that they so need in this area.”
Labelle Lake Ice Palace is remaining open through the lawsuit and for the rest of this season. Martin said she invites anyone to come and enjoy the attraction in its final weeks of the season.
“If for some reason this doesn’t workout how we’re wanting we just might not be able to open up next year, but we are in full swing this year,” Martin said. “We’d love for everybody to come check it out while we’re still open.”
A request for comment from Ice Castles, LLC and their attorney has not been returned.