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Then: After X-IT Products invented a foldup emergency ladder, rival Walter Kidde, a large maker of home-safety products, came out with a replica. X-IT sued and won a $17 million settlement (FSB, April 2002).

Now: X-IT, with 2007 sales of about $1 million, will introduce two new models of the safety ladder this year. Co-founder Aldo Di-Belardino says in retrospect he should have applied earlier for his patent. In fact it was not issued until after the trial.

"Kidde tried to rush in their own patent application," he says, "so it would look like we were the ones ripping them off."

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Last updated April 28 2008: 9:41 AM ET