A federal judge in Virginia enhanced damages and awarded attorneys’ fees to Stinson Leonard Street client Cobalt Boats in a patent infringement case against Brunswick Corp., a competing boat manufacturer. The judge awarded Cobalt compensatory damages of $5.4 million, up from the original award of $2.7 million.
In doing so, U.S. District Court Judge Henry C. Morgan, Jr. concluded that Brunswick not only willfully infringed on Cobalt’s patent, but also dragged the suit out unnecessarily through a “pattern of misconduct.”
Cobalt sued Sea Ray Boats and its parent company Brunswick in January 2015 alleging that Brunswick infringed on Cobalt’s “retractable swim step,” a partially submerged platform that allows boat passengers to easily enter and exit the water. In June of 2017 a jury concluded that Brunswick’s infringement was willful and returned a $2.7 million verdict.
This case was being closely watched in the patent and boating industries. It was one of the first to be tried following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in TC Heartland, where the court found that patent suits can only be filed where a defendant is incorporated or where it has committed infringement and has a regular and established place of business. Sea Ray argued it had no ties to the Eastern District of Virginia, but in a split decision the Federal Circuit denied Brunswick’s last minute request for mandamus relief three days before trial began. The claims asserted in the litigation survived an IPR invalidity challenge by Brunswick at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and Brunswick dropped its remaining invalidity allegations during trial.
At trial Cobalt proved that the claims of Cobalt’s Swim Step patent were infringed, and that the infringement was willful, meaning the jury concluded Brunswick’s behavior was particularly egregious. Because the jury found Brunswick’s infringement to be willful, the Virginia federal court may decide to enhance the verdict up to three times the $2.7 million awarded by the jury.
Since its introduction in 2010, the patented Swim Step has been a popular feature with Cobalt’s dealers and customers. The way it flips down below the surface of the water provides an easy way for people to get in and out of the water and also provides a bench-like seat on the back of the boat that gives boaters more room to enjoy the water. After it was introduced, Cobalt saw a steady increase in sales and demand for the feature, and it is now the most popular feature on Cobalt’s boats. During trial, Cobalt proved that the Swim Step feature helped it sell boats—and helped Brunswick sell its infringing boats as well.
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