Judge Donald Ashmanskas of the Federal District Court in Portland, Ore., issued a pre-trial ruling that appears to support the position Johnson Outdoors has taken in the company's patent infringement lawsuit against Confluence, filed on Jan. 24, 2002.
In his ruling, Judge Ashmanskas establishes legal definitions for the technical terms and claims on which the patent infringement case will be decided. The judge's ruling follows a court hearing in June 2003 where both sides presented their legal argument and evidence to support their positions about how various technical terms in the patent and manufacturing process were to be defined.
At issue is Old Town's patent (USPTO No. 4,836,963) for a rotational molding process used to create a multi-layered hull. Old Town is alleging that Confluence is violating that patent in the manufacture of the company's own line of rotomolded polyethylene boats, introduced in 2000 under the Mad River brand name.
While the ruling was in favor of Old Town in every disputed claim about how terms would be defined, the Confluence team remains upbeat.
In a statement issued to SNEWSÂ®, Confluence said, "The Court's interpretation of the patent claims reinforces Confluence's position that the patent in suit is invalid. Confluence will continue to manufacture rotationally molded canoes pending a determination by the Court regarding the validity of the patent."
Johnson Outdoors is seeking unspecified financial damages. No trial date has yet been set.
SNEWS View: Our legal beagles reviewed the ruling, along with other related court documents, and couldn't find any reason for Confluence's team to be so upbeat. On the other hand, they also pointed out that it is a little early for Johnson to be thumping its chest in victory too. The game isn't over until the fat lady sings and, by the look of things, this case is only going to make lawyers rich and the paddlesport industry players quite a bit lighter in the pocketbook. If Confluence is found to be violating Old Town's patent, that will be a very costly judgment against a company that can ill afford one right now. The stakes for Johnson are equally high, because if its patent is found to be valid, it will strengthen its position in an increasingly competitive market banking on boats with lower production costs, higher margins and value-priced to sell to mainstream consumers.