Court dismisses Nautilus patent case against Icon

Already having knocked down wins in the last few court rounds, Icon Fitness took the TKO in the legal battle brought by Nautilus charging patent infringement on the Bowflex by Icon's Crossbow. Nautilus has appealed the decision to a higher court.
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Already having knocked down wins in the last few court rounds, Icon Fitness took the TKO in the legal battle brought by Nautilus charging patent infringement on the Bowflex by Icon's Crossbow when the district court dismissed the case last week.

"It's done, for all intents and purposes," Icon legal counsel Brad Bearnson told SNEWS. "It brings a sense of finality and, in that sense, it's a relief."

Nautilus President and CEO Gregg Hammann told SNEWS it has appealed the decision to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals and believes the higher court may interpret the case differently.

Icon had won the latest court rulings, including one earlier this month by the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, which basically found the Icon-made Crossbow was not substantially similar to the Bowflex and therefore did not infringe on the Nautilus patent. That was based on the so-called "doctrine of equivalents" of patent law. This section interprets patents more loosely so products can be compared to see if they are substantially similar, meaning companies can't just move a few parts or change a shape slightly and call something different. Icon had also won findings in May when Nautilus was denied a preliminary injunction for literal infringement, and Icon was granted a partial summary judgment on several claims of literal infringement. That meant those points would not have been allowed in the jury trial that had been set for December. In contrast to the doctrine of equivalents, literal infringement means a product is copied nearly exactly.

Although the loss certainly leaves Nautilus disappointed, it doesn't feel it's the end of the war. Winning at retail is what's most important, President Kevin Lamar told SNEWS.

"Our product is better. Our brand name is better," Lamar said. "We created the category, and when we are compared side-by-side, we are winning. The customers are voting with their dollars.

"In the channels of distribution where we compete with them, we're outselling them – at a higher price point," Lamar added.

Still pending is the trademark infringement allegation by Nautilus that has charged the Icon Crossbow, marketing under the Weider brand name, is too similar in name and promotions to those of the Nautilus Bowflex and thereby confusing to the consumer. Both the patent and trademark charges had been brought in the same suit filed by Nautilus in December 2002, but are being addressed separately.

So far the trademark battle is earmarked for a jury trial sometime in 2004, although that will depend on the decision rendered by the Federal appellate court, which is now considering arguments. In the last round, the district court in Seattle had agreed with Nautilus and granted the company a preliminary injunction, although that ruling was appealed by Icon to the federal court, which sided with Icon and stayed the preliminary injunction. Now the federal court is considering information by Nautilus about that reversal before Icon gets its turn to argue its case on paper. The court will then likely either send the case back to the district court in Seattle for review, trial and ruling, or dismiss the charges and end the case. That ruling may not happen for another eight weeks.

The Bowflex patent expires in April 2004.

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