No soft pedaling
When Teleflex -- which makes custom-engineered cable controls, electronic throttle controls and other controls -- learned of the GM-KSR deal, it contended that its patents protect all combinations of an adjustable pedal and electronic sensor.
Teleflex filed a federal lawsuit in Detroit in November 2002, alleging KSR infringed on Teleflex's patent for an adjustable pedal system combined with an electronic control.
KSR argues that the Teleflex patent isn't valid because Teleflex's technology is merely a combination of existing inventions.
The outcome is expected to draw wide interest, especially from large companies, says James DeLong, a senior fellow with the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a Washington think tank. "They don't want technology to get gridlocked by too many junk patents," says DeLong, whose group is siding with KSR.
Teleflex lawyer Rodger Young says the case addresses how to determine when an invention is "obvious" and thus prohibited from protection.
Young, of the law firm Young & Susser, said an adverse ruling against his client "will create a lot of problems in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office."
KSR lawyer James Dabney says the "standard of patentability has gone so low that you can patent anything."
"It's a real drag on industry, and not just the auto industry," says Dabney, a partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP in New York.
In March 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in Washington, ruled that the Teleflex system was valid. The ruling vacated a previous summary judgment that had determined the patent was invalid and had remanded the case to the U.S. District Court for further proceedings.
The patent originally was ruled as invalid by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Zatkoff in Detroit. The judge's reasoning was that combining two progressive technologies was deemed "obvious," as claimed by KSR.
Companies including Microsoft Corp. have sought to scale back patent rights. Many large companies have been besieged with lawsuits alleging infringement on patents that critics call junk patents.
Teleflex supplies pedal systems to Ford Motor Co. Young said Teleflex sold its pedal systems business a year ago to DriveSol Worldwide Inc., of Troy, Mich.
You may e-mail Robert Sherefkin at [email protected]