Icon wins another round in Nautilus patent infringement battle

In a continuing volley in the legal battle over patent infringement, Icon Health & Fitness picked up another point when a district court last week granted the company a motion that means the court has found the Icon-made Crossbow machine is not substantially similar to the Nautilus Bowflex and therefore does not infringe on the Nautilus patent.
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In a continuing volley in the legal battle over patent infringement, Icon Health & Fitness picked up another point when a district court last week granted the company a motion that means the court has found the Icon-made Crossbow machine is not substantially similar to the Nautilus Bowflex and therefore does not infringe on the Nautilus patent.

The case, filed in December 2002 by Nautilus against Icon, is now heading toward a December jury trial, although Icon has also now filed a motion to stay the trial and dismiss claims. The court is scheduled to be briefed on these issues Oct. 14.

Icon has won the latest rounds, including an important finding in May when Nautilus was denied a preliminary injunction for literal infringement, and Icon won a partial summary judgment on several claims of literal patent infringement, therefore avoiding trial on those. This latest ruling last week is based on the "Doctrine of Equivalents," which is another way to interpret patent infringement. Literal infringement means a product is copied nearly exactly, while the doctrine interprets patents more loosely to compare products and see if they are substantially similar -- eliminating the possibility for a company to simply move levers or buttons and call a product different.

"The lower court has said, Icon doesn't infringe," Icon legal counsel Brad Bearnson told SNEWS. "We think for all intents and purposes it's over except the shouting."

Nautilus will appeal the ruling by the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals once the district court issues a decision on all remaining patent and trademark claims. Subject to the Federal Circuit's decision on the Nautilus appeal, this order removes most patent claims from the December 2003 trial. On Sept. 4, the Federal Court heard Nautilus' appeal of the District Court's order denying Nautilus' claim for literal patent infringement, and Nautilus is waiting for a ruling on that.

"We're still driving to a December trial. It will be a dogfight," said Nautilus President Kevin Lamar. "We're going to win in the marketplace whether we win or lose in court. The only thing our company is focused on is winning in the marketplace."

The suit filed by Nautilus had charged both patent infringement and trademark infringement, but the trademark dispute is being addressed separately and is earmarked for a trial sometime in early 2004. So far in the trademark battle, Nautilus is ahead with the judge agreeing that the Crossbow name and promotions are too similar to those of the Bowflex and therefore confusing to the consumer.

Said Gregg Hammann, Nautilus president and CEO, "We will continue to aggressively defend our brands and patents both in the district court and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals."

The Bowflex patent expires in April 2004.

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