Politics & Government

Kobach defending Utah business from lawsuit brought by Kansas company

Secretary of State Kris Kobach is defending a Utah business against a lawsuit brought by a Kansas company that makes firearms accessories.

Kobach, who is running for governor, is representing Modular Evolution in his capacity as a private attorney. Wichita-based B&T Industries filed a patent infringement suit against Modular Evolution in February.

B&T Industries makes monopods and bipods for rifles and other firearms gear. Modular Evolution’s signature product is the Evolution Bipod, which the company says on its website is designed to replace shooting sticks, multiple bipods and heavy tripod adapters.

In a complaint filed in federal court, B&T Industries says Modular Evolution "has infringed and continues to infringe" on a bipod patent held by B&T Industries.

"Unless restrained, Defendant’s continued infringement of (the patent) will cause Plaintiff’s irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law," the complaint says.

Kobach filed an answer to the complaint on April 26. "Denied as to the allegation that Defendant has infringed on the patent," he wrote.

The lawsuit is the only open federal civil case Kobach is part of that doesn’t involve his position as secretary of state or his role on President Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, according to a search of federal records.

Why Kobach took the case isn’t clear. He didn’t answer a call Friday morning and a campaign spokeswoman didn’t respond to questions.

Calls and an email to Modular Evolution weren’t answered.

Kasey Beltz, an owner and operator of B&T Industries, said he didn’t know why Kobach is an attorney on the case.

“No idea,” Beltz said. “I found it quite fascinating that, one, he is a public official and he’s on our taxpayer tax roll and still practicing what I consider private practice – it threw me off.”

James Kernell, an attorney for B&T Industries, said Kobach is local counsel in the case and not actively involved. Michael McKell, an attorney in Spanish Fork, Utah, is also part of Modular Evolution’s defense. A receptionist at McKell’s law firm said Friday morning he was unavailable.

Modular Evolution is based in Mapleton, Utah, which is south of Salt Lake City and near Spanish Fork.

Kobach is an outspoken gun rights supporter. He once called a statewide ballot question to establish a right to hunt and fish "extremely sexy and exciting."

He has held an interest in another Kansas firearms manufacturer – Minuteman Defense, an Overland Park-based maker of rifles – since at least 2014.

Utah business records show Modular Evolution is at the same location as Aztek Arms, a firearms manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy in 2016, according to the Better Business Bureau. Records list a George Liechty as either the president or manager for both companies.

The Eagle spoke to Beltz in 2010 for a story about patents. At the time, he said patents were incredibly important.

"You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don't pursue it it's no idea at all," he said.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman