PORTLAND – A wreath-making company in Down East Maine is suing a competitor in a dispute over the design of a tabletop Christmas tree that both companies produce.

Morrill Worcester, the owner of Worcester Wreath in Harrington, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Bangor this week against the Whitney Originals wreath-making company in Machias.

Worcester accuses Whitney of ripping off the patented design of his miniature tree. The tree is made with a solid foam center that sits in a stand and is adorned with balsam branches and pine cones.

The lawsuit shines a light on Maine’s lucrative and competitive wreath-making industry. Numerous companies throughout the state, of which Whitney and Worcester are among the largest, turn out millions of wreaths, miniature trees and other balsam products each holiday season.

Whitney and Worcester reached an agreement in 2002, after a previous lawsuit, that granted Whitney a license to make the tabletop tree as long as it didn’t infringe on the distinctive appearance of Worcester’s tree products or cause confusion in the marketplace.

But for this holiday season, Whitney is producing a miniature tree, sold by L.L. Bean, that “substantially copies” Worcester’s tree, the lawsuit alleges.

Worcester said he was surprised to see the tree in L.L. Bean’s 2010 holiday catalog. At first glance, it looked just like his tree, he said.

“Look at our tree at worcesterwreath.com and look at theirs, and you be the judge,” he said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a permanent injunction prohibiting Whitney from making trees that infringe on Worcester’s patented design.

Whitney’s attorney, James Haddow of Portland, said Whitney has been careful to obey he 2002 agreement.

“The nuances of similarity are going to be the subject of the lawsuit when it’s all done,” Haddow said. “But Whitney Originals has been very careful to make sure its trees aren’t identical to the Worcester trees, that there were substantial differences to the decorations.”

Worcester, who said he produces 350,000 to 375,000 wreaths a year, is well known for sending thousands of wreaths each year to Arlington National Cemetery.

His company produced hundreds of thousands of wreaths each year for L.L. Bean, but Bean ended the business relationship after the 2008 holiday season.

David Whitney, owner of Whitney Originals, said he believes his company is the largest wreath manufacturer in Maine.

His company last year won the contract to provide L.L. Bean with its wreaths and other balsam products.

“This is the first year Whitney’s trees have appeared in the L.L. Bean catalog,” Haddow said. “You can infer what you want about the timing of the lawsuit.”