Builder in court over selloff before company collapsed
Barry Suckling, founder of National Builders Group, is facing a Supreme Court fight over allegations that assets were inappropriately transferred or sold off before the company's collapse early last year.
The legal dispute centres on the control of intellectual property formerly owned by NBG, including trademarks and designs and plans of 200 homes the company licenses and sells to home buyers and builders.
The Melbourne-based firm was voluntarily wound up in March 2012 with debts estimated at more than $22.3 million. It is estimated NBG generated $18.15 million in revenue and held assets worth $41.78 million in the financial year to March 21, 2012.
Court documents alleged that Mr Suckling, as sole director of NBG, transferred the rights to all of the company's current and future intellectual property at no cost to another Suckling-controlled entity, National Builders Group IP Holdings, in April 2009. The rights were immediately licensed back, but on the condition the agreement could be cancelled if NBG ever went into administration.
Shortly before NBG's collapse, the company also sold all of the furniture, fixtures and fittings in its display homes and offices to developer Mega Homes, a company allegedly associated with Mr Suckling. An attempt to sell off more than 22 properties to Mega Homes for $8.29 million at the same time was not realised.
Liquidators Hamilton Murphy are now petitioning the Supreme Court to declare NBG the owner of the intellectual property and order an injunction preventing Mr Suckling or IP Holdings from using the materials, as well as to pay damages.
"The liquidator suspects that those building designs and plans were created by Suckling as an employee of NBG and the intellectual property in the plans and building designs was owned by NBG," Hamilton Murphy director Richard Rohrt claims in court documents.
"The effect of Suckling causing NBG to enter each of these documents was to, in effect, purport to strip NBG of its intellectual property in its trademarks and copyrights, to transfer the said trademarks and copyrights to IP Holdings, a company which he had control of and the beneficial interest in, for no consideration."
Mr Rohrt alleges that Mr Suckling's conduct was a "breach of his statutory and common law duties" and the transfers amounted to "unreasonable director-related transactions in that they were made to or for the benefit of the director or a close associate of the director".
Hamilton Murphy has asked the court for an expedited hearing following claims that Mr Suckling and IP Holdings may be attempting to claim licence fees owed by builders before the collapse and are continuing to sell the home designs and plans to builders and customers.
Mr Suckling, who has reportedly claimed the intellectual property is his personal property, could not be reached for comment.