Precor sues Fitness Quest, Sportcraft claiming patent infringement

Precor will be giving the courts a little more to do in the coming months. Along with its licensor, Larry Miller, Precor has filed two patent infringement suits against both Fitness Quest and Sportcraft for allegedly infringing on its 10-year-old elliptical patent.
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Precor will be giving the courts a little more to do in the coming months. Along with its licensor, Larry Miller, Precor has filed two patent infringement suits against both Fitness Quest and Sportcraft for allegedly infringing on its 10-year-old elliptical patent.

“While we don't discuss ongoing litigation, Precor does highly value the patents and intellectual property of our proprietary technology, and will defend those patents from infringement by competitors," Precor spokesman Jim Zahniser told SNEWS®.

The two suits were filed separately in the last month in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, Seattle. Both are asking for a jury trial, among other things. They are among about 15 lawsuits filed over the years by Precor against several companies over its elliptical patent, including Life Fitness, SportsArt, Keys, Nautilus, True, Weider and others.

The Woodinville, Wash.-based company received reinforcement of its patent in March 2002 when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced the claims in U.S. Patent No. 5,383,829 -- the basic patent for Precor's elliptical fitness trainers -- were valid and enforceable in a re-examination. (See SNEWS® story, March 8, 2002, "Precor wins patent re-exam on elliptical" by clicking here

Precor President Paul Byrne at that time told SNEWS® the re-examination, which had been requested by several companies, was "not to be litigious," but as one of the "groundbreaking" patents in the industry, Precor had "to let the industry know we're going to protect our intellectual property." In that re-exam, which took five years, re-examiners made no changes to six claims in the original patent, added some minor wording to one claim, and added another 68 claims, thereby actually strengthening the patent.

In the current cases, Precor filed the suit against Fitness Quest alleging that Fitness Quest's Eclipse 2100HRA and Eclipse 4100HRA elliptical trainers “infringe at least Claims 17,18, 19, 20, 21,22 and 23 of the Miller so-called '829 patent.” That suit was filed June 1, according to court documents obtained by SNEWS®. But, according to Fitness Quest's website, both machines utilize Fitness Quest's own patented "orbital linkage system," have 15-inch strides, and up to 12 programmable workouts. The 4100HRA sells on the site for $550 and the 2100HRA is listed for $395.

“We don't comment on pending litigation,” Fitness Quest vice president of retail sales Dave Petersilge told SNEWS®, although he said the company would have an official response soon.

In the second recent case — filed May 23 — Precor also claimed that Sportcraft's EX 400 Elliptical Trainer “infringes at least Claims 17,18, 19, 20, 21,22 and 23 of the Miller patent.” The EX 400 is the company's first entry into the elliptical market, has a rear drive, 16 levels of resistance and an 18-inch stride length. The machine lists for $300 and has been sold through select sporting goods stores since January 2005.  

A Sportcraft spokesman acknowledged to SNEWS® that the company was served with the suit filed by Precor, but that the company had no additional comments. The elliptical is no longer on the Sportcraft website.

A ruling by the court on June 20 granted Sportcraft an extension until July 18 to respond to the charges.
In both cases, Precor and Miller are asking for a jury trial and a list of requested relief from the courts, including enjoining both companies and all associated with them from continuing with the product, as well as the request to deliver all products that infringe for destruction, plus monetary compensation for damages and attorney fees.

SNEWS® VIEW: No one can fault Precor — or Miller for that matter — for protecting intellectual properties, especially with many millions of dollars at stake in the elliptical market — one that is still growing. Still, it seems unlikely in an industry as small as this one, which can be quick to bring litigation in these cases, that companies would make products that deliberately infringe on patents held by an active company such as Precor. We'd bet that these allegedly infringing companies checked, double-checked and triple-checked before they spent money on manufacturing and bringing a product to market. Of course, mistakes happen. It may take years and tens of thousands of dollars from each of the companies just to find out whether the case will move forward or not. And that's the big pity here — the waste of time and money that could go into industry marketing and other product development.  

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