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Hit by patent suit, Monoprice apparently pulls top-rated speakers

In a March lawsuit, Klipsch accused Monoprice of patent infringement. Now, the speakers in question are not available on Monoprice's Web site, though the company has not commented.

Monoprice's home theater speakers, on the left, are virtually identical to the top-rated Energy Take Classic 5.1, on the right, in all ways but one: the price. The Monoprice system sells for $150 less. Sarah Tew/CNET

Online discount retailer Monoprice has apparently discontinued selling its top-rated home theater speakers shortly after being hit with a patent-infringement lawsuit.

In March, CNET reported on Monoprice, a darling of tech geeks for its cut-rate cables, noting that a handful of its new products were virtually identical to rival offerings.

Perhaps the most striking: Monoprice's 5.1 Hi-Fi Home Theater Satellite Speakers & Subwoofer system, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Energy Take Classic 5.1 system, which CNET's Matt Moskovciak called "the best budget speaker system we've reviewed." Other than the logos, the home theater speakers are virtually identical in every way except one: the price. The Monoprice system sold for $249, $150 less than the Energy model.

And a teardown of each speaker system by CNET's Geoffrey Morrison seemed to show that the guts of these speakers are identical as well, right down to the frequency response, the connectors, and even the screws. The manual for the Monoprice system includes an odd typo about "connecting your Energy subwoofer."

That helps explain why Energy's owner, Klipsch, sued Monoprice in March, alleging infringement on a surround-sound patent issued in 2004. Klipsch also accused Monoprice of copying the "substance" of its owner's manual. The suit seeks to prevent Monoprice from selling the speakers and asks for triple damages, an amount that it said would be determined at trial.

Monoprice CEO Ajay Kumar, interviewed before CNET became aware of the suit, said the company "never purposely" sells products that infringe on another company's patents. Monoprice subsequently declined to comment on the litigation.

But Klipsch may have already gotten one of the remedies it's seeking. Monoprice has apparently stopped selling the speakers. Shortly after the suit was filed, the speakers have been unobtainable from Monoprice's Web site. The company lists the speakers as on backorder, currently showing an "estimated arrival time" for orders of July 3. But that date has consistently slipped in recent weeks.

A Monoprice spokesman did not return three requests for comment on whether the speakers have been pulled. But in a recent email exchange, a Monoprice tech support associate told a customer that "this item has been discontinued."

Klipsch, too, declined to comment on whether the apparent discontinuation was related to its suit against Monoprice, citing ongoing litigation.

CNET Senior Associate Editor Matthew Moskovciak contributed to this article.