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Thomas O'Brien seeks to end Hickory Chair license

WILMINGTON, Del. — Designer Thomas O'Brien is seeking to break his license agreement with Hickory Chair, saying the association with Hickory Chair parent Furniture Brands International is hurting his brand's image.

O'Brien's motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court here said the market value of his name is in jeopardy and added that Furniture Brands, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in September, was in default of payment obligations to him prior to its filing - nor has it paid any royalties to him for articles sold after the filing.

He also argues that with FBI poised to sell off its assets to the highest bidder, an ownership change poses unknown risks to his brand.

In a statement, Hickory Chair acknowledged that O'Brien has chosen to depart, but said the company is doing well and that its sales are up this year.

O'Brien argues that his pre-bankruptcy agreement with the company gives him the right to cancel the agreement at any time, and that the automatic stay that applies to bankruptcy court cases doesn't affect to his right to terminate their agreement.

The motion also said the agreement prevents him from seeking a possible new license partner, which could lead to additional lost revenues.

"A delay in implementing a new agreement with a possible new license partner will have a domino effect and delay the succession of actions needed to launch a new collection," the motion said.

Hickory Chair is known in the industry for its powerhouse licensing stable, which also includes Alexa Hampton, Mariette Himes Gomez, Suzanne Kasler and Winterthur Country Estate, one of the longest-running licenses in the furniture industry.

In a statement, the company said, "Hickory Chair continues to perform well during this difficult environment with sales up year over year to date which speaks to the brand and its products developed by the company's in-house design team in collaboration with licensees. On that note, we can confirm that Thomas O'Brien has chosen to terminate his agreement with the company. That said, we are confident that his departure will not damper the positive momentum that Hickory Chair is currently enjoying."

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