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Lawyers say end is near in sanitary pad lawsuit

BOSTON --Four male attorneys stood in federal court Wednesday and said they're finally nearing an end in their fight over sanitary pads.

Tyco Healthcare sued Kimberly-Clark Corp. last year, claiming the company was infringing on its trademarked name "Flexi-Wings" used on Always brand sanitary pads.

Tyco Healthcare, a former Tyco International Ltd. unit that recently was spun off as Mansfield-based Covidien Ltd., claimed Kimberly-Clark purposefully tried to confuse customers by juxtaposing its trademark name "Comfort-Flex" next to the word "wings" on its Kotex brand packaging.

Attorneys at a hearing Wednesday said they were close to reaching a settlement, though they would not discuss the terms.

At stake is a piece of the lucrative feminine hygiene products market, which was worth more than $1.835 billion in 2006, according to Mintel, a market research firm in Chicago. Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark are two of the biggest players in the market.

Tyco Healthcare -- now Covidien -- licenses the "Flexi-Wings" name to Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co., which uses it on Always brand sanitary pads with wings, which are extensions intended to hold pads in place and give added absorption. Tyco claims the Always brand holds a 50 percent share of the market for sanitary pads.

In its lawsuit, Tyco said Kimberly-Clark began marketing a line of sanitary pads under the Kotex brand with the "Comfort-Flex" wings designation in the summer of 2006.

Tyco alleged in its lawsuit that Kimberly-Clark deliberately decided to place "Comfort-Flex" next to the word "wings" on its packaging "in an effort to trade on the good name, reputation and success of P&G Always brand sanitary pads with Flexi-Wings."

But Kimberly-Clark denied Tyco's claim that the two names were "confusingly similar," and said in court documents that "wings" is a generic term used by many sanitary pad companies.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro agreed. In December, he rejected Tyco's request for a preliminary injunction to bar Kimberly-Clark from using the combination of "Comfort-Flex" and "wings."

The case was allowed to proceed toward trial, but lawyers for both companies told Tauro Wednesday that may not be necessary.

"We're very close to resolving this matter," said Jeffery Handelman, an attorney for Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark.

Both companies said they would report back to Tauro on Sept. 4 on their settlement discussions.

David T. Young, a Covidien spokesman, said the company would not comment on the lawsuit or the proposed settlement. David Dickson, a spokesman for Kimberly-Clark, said the company had no immediate comment.