AstroTurf, maker of synthetic turf in sports, files bankruptcy; plans sale

(REUTERS) - AstroTurf, the maker of synthetic turf that has carpeted the Houston Astrodome and other playing fields for a half-century, has filed for bankruptcy protection and plans to be sold after losing a US$30 million (S$40 million) patent verdict to rival FieldTurf USA.

Subject to court approval, Germany's SportGroup Deutschland Holding, which makes artificial turf systems and running tracks, agreed to buy AstroTurf's turf business for US$92.5 million in cash, according to a press statement and papers filed on Tuesday in a Georgia bankruptcy court.

AstroTurf's Chapter 11 filing came after a federal jury in Detroit found last Oct 9 that the privately-held company willfully infringed a FieldTurf patent related to a system of attaching artificial blades of grass to a woven backing layer.

The jury awarded FieldTurf US$20.3 million for lost profit and US$9.7 million for royalties. AstroTurf said it lacks the financial wherewithal to post a bond to cover a judgment.

A FieldTurf spokesman said the Montreal-based company will be "aggressively opposing" AstroTurf's proposed sale in court.

"FieldTurf views the proposed transaction as an attempt to deprive AstroTurf's creditors of the fair value of the assets and to avoid payment on AstroTurf's outstanding patent infringement verdict," the spokesman said.

Invented in 1964 and once known as "Chemgrass," AstroTurf got its name upon being installed in 1966 in the covered Astrodome, where grass could not survive because of low lighting conditions.

Many professional and college sports teams later installed AstroTurf, though some have switched in recent years to grass or softer artificial surfaces.

AstroTurf was also used for the backyard of the Brady family's house in the 1970s comedy The Brady Bunch.

AstroTurf is based in Dalton, Georgia. SportGroup has offices in Burgheim, Germany, and said it is supplying fields and tracks to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.