Defense Of Ford Against Patent Infringement And Unjust Enrichment

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Brooks Kushman was recently successful in defending Ford Motor Company (Ford) against claims for patent infringement and usurpment of an idea, which the plaintiff later recast as an unjust enrichment claim. The plaintiff was a solo inventor who had obtained a relatively narrow patent on a fender liner for trucks. The unjust enrichment claim against Ford arose from several attempts by the plaintiff to sell his fender liners to Ford engineers during Ford`s contemporaneous development of its own fender liners. These contacts with Ford were unsolicited and occurred after the plaintiff had already sold a handful of his fender liners to the general public. Since the plaintiff`s fender liners were not suitable for Ford`s vehicles, Ford continued its development of its own fender liners. Disgruntled that Ford did not purchase his liners, after the plaintiff`s patent issued, the patentee filed the suit claiming that Ford`s independently developed liners infringed his narrow patent and constituted an unjust enrichment.

At the lower court level, working closely with the Ford employees who had contact with the patentee, Brooks Kushman prepared and filed a summary judgment motion on the unjust enrichment claim. On the unjust enrichment motion, Brooks Kushman successfully argued that the plaintiff did not have any protectable property right outside the patent since the sale of his fender liners to the general public placed his “idea” in the public domain. Ford also filed a successful summary judgment motion of non-infringement on the majority of the accused liners. Through the granting of the summary judgment motions, Brooks Kushman quicky disposed of most of Ford`s potential exposure. The question of infringement on the remaining liners went to a jury, however. Relying on the Court`s improper claim construction, the jury found that the remaining Ford liners infringed the patent. Though the jury was required to rely on a faulty claim construction, the jury awarded damages that were based on Ford expert`s analysis rather than the patentee`s expert`s analysis. In doing so, the patentee was awarded less than 5% of what he sought for the patent claim.

Convinced that the finding of patent infringement and the underlying claim construction was clearly erroneous, we appealed the decision to the Federal Circuit. The patentee also cross appealed the dismissal of his unjust enrichment claim. The Federal Circuit, adopting Ford`s claim construction, found Ford has not infringed the patent and overturned the District Court holding. The Court also held that the dismissal of the unjust enrichment claim was just since the patentee had placed the invention in the public domain, thereby precluding any unjust enrichment claim.