Patent dispute between RV suppliers returns to court

A pair of suppliers to the recreational vehicle industry are headed back to court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit revived the infringement claims made after a patented two-part seal was discovered on an RV in an Elkhart County, Indiana, factory.

Lifetime Industries Inc., has alleged that its competitor, Trim-Lok Inc., copied its special design for a two-part seal that attaches at the slide-out room (the section of the RV that expands outward to create a larger interior space). The seal, which prevents water, debris and drafts from sweeping inside the RV, is touted as being easily reconfigured for different slide-outs.

In its second amended complaint, Lifetime charged that Trim-Lok either directly or indirectly infringed on its patented seal by causing the component to be installed on an RV in the Elkhart County Forest River plant. Lifetime noted its competitor did not manufacture or sell tis two-part seals until after two former Lifetime employees, who had knowledge of the patent and its scope, joined Trim-Lok.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana granted Trim-Lok’s motion for summary judgment, ruling Lifetime had not adequately pleaded its case.

The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded Thursday. In Lifetime Industries, Inc., v. Trim-Lok, Inc., 2017-1096, the appellate court found the record needs to be further developed to determine whether Trim-Lok infringed.
Before the Federal Circuit, Trim-Lok argued the complaint was correctly dismissed because it only makes the seals and the claims of the patent requires a seal and an RV combination. Also, Trim-Lok asserted that Lifetime’s contentions that one of its agents installed the seal at Forest River “is speculative and implausible because it does not identify a person controlled by Trim-Lok who took an action that would directly infringe.”

The appellate panel was not convinced.

The unanimous court held Lifetime’s allegations that Trim-Lok directly infringed fit the precedents of the Federal Circuit. These precedents require the complaint place the alleged infringer on notice of the activity that is in violation of the patent. Lifetime does that by identifying where and when the infringement occurred as well as who did the infringing and why.

On the indirect infringement claim, the court ruled Lifetime plausibly alleged that Trim-Lok induced infringement of the patent. The plausibility requirement calls only for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal the defendant is liable for the misconduct.

“…the seal discovered by (the Lifetime representative) was installed on the Forest River RV by someone, and the two plausible installers are either Trim-Lok employees or Forest River employees,” Judge Alan Lourie wrote for the court. “If it was Trim-Lok employees, then Trim-Lok may be liable for direct infringement; if it was Forest River employees, then Trim-Lok may be liable for indirect infringement. Thus, a more developed record will clarify what the role, if any, Trim-Lok employees had in the installation of the seal at the Forest River plant.”

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