Rulings Leave Questions in Arlington v. Bridgeport Patent Dispute

Nov. 1, 2009
The outcomes of two separate federal court actions last month in a dispute between Arlington Industries Inc., Scranton, Pa., and Bridgeport Fittings Inc.,

The outcomes of two separate federal court actions last month in a dispute between Arlington Industries Inc., Scranton, Pa., and Bridgeport Fittings Inc., Stratford, Conn., over patent rights on a snap-in conduit fitting didn't clarify much, except that the conflict will continue. The two lawsuits, brought by Arlington in 2001 and 2006, concluded in the same federal court district in the same month, but reached opposite results.

The complaints, both litigated in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, allege that Bridgeport's Whipper-Snap connector infringes on patents held by Arlington for a snap-in fitting that allows installers to connect the fitting to an electrical box with one hand, without tools or lock nuts. The patents, numbers 5,266,050 and 6,521,831 (referred to in the legal documents as the “050” patent and “831” patent, respectively) describe the way Arlington's Snap-Tite connector attaches to the box.

An earlier lawsuit claiming infringement of patents regarding the same Arlington technology — used in its Snap-2-It line — ended in 2004 with a settlement in which Bridgeport removed 24 Snap-In and Speed-Snap connectors from the market. Bridgeport subsequently introduced its Whipper-Snap connector line based on what it claims is a substantially different design. Bridgeport President Del Auray said the company has been issued seven patents regarding that design.

In the case that concluded on Sept. 1, presiding District Judge A. Richard Caputo found that Bridgeport's Whipper-Snap connector did not infringe either the 050 or 831 Arlington patents either literally or via the doctrine of equivalents, and that Arlington was not entitled to any damages. Arlington has filed notice that it plans to appeal this decision.

In the case that concluded Sept. 25 before District Judge Christopher C. Conner, a jury found in Arlington's favor on every count — that Bridgeport's products violated the 050 patent, that the violation was willful, and that Bridgeport had breached its contract from the earlier settlement by selling products that were “colorable imitations” of the products at issue in that suit. The jury awarded Arlington a total of $2.8 million in lost profits and damages.

Arlington President Tom Stark told EM his company will file a motion to have the damages tripled, “based on Bridgeport's willful conduct,” and to immediately remove the Whipper-Snap products from the market. Bridgeport said it will appeal this decision because the case should have been barred based on the judge's ruling in the same district court in the Sept. 1 decision. Bridgeport's attempts to stop the jury trial on those grounds before it started were unsuccessful.

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