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Court Upholds Aflac Product Copyrights

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The U.S. District Court in Atlanta has granted a preliminary injunction against Assurant Inc. in connection with allegations that Assurant copied 4 Aflac Inc. supplemental insurance policies too closely.

The Jan. 11 ruling enjoined Assurant, New York, and subsidiaries Fortis Insurance and John Alden Life Insurance from selling the products, which the court said used “substantially similar” language to Aflac voluntary worksite policies covering cancer, accidents, hospital confinement and illnesses requiring hospitalization.

Aflac, Columbus, Ga., brought the copyright-infringement case June 3.

The company complained Assurant knew extensive details about its policies after hiring Mark Shaw, a former Aflac senior vice president.

The court order ruled that dozens of benefits in the Assurant policies, which were marketed under the VoluntaryMart brand, were almost identical to those in the Aflac products.

The court said Aflac had spent 8 months to 9 months developing the policies, while Assurant brought largely similar ones to market within 4 months after beginning work on them in December 2003.

Joey Loudermilk, Aflac’s executive vice president of legal and government relations, says the decision supports Aflac’s view that policy language is protected by copyright laws.

“Aflac goes to great lengths to ensure its policy language can be easily read and understood by our customers,” Loudermilk says. “While we welcome fair competition, there should be no shortcut to the marketplace or easy route for developing the best insurance products.”

Assurant Health, the Assurant division issuing the enjoined policies, says it is disappointed by the decision and plans to appeal it.

“This ruling will have no significant impact on our business or our overall plans for our VoluntaryMart product,” the company says in a statement. “It’s important to know that existing policyholders of these and all of our products are unaffected by this decision.”


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