ALEXANDRIA, VA. — Masco Corp. won its patent lawsuit when a federal court jury Nov. 29 found Price Pfister liable for non-willful patent infringement of a lavatory faucet made by Delta Faucet, a division of Masco. The jury also awarded Masco approximately $1.4 million in damages, which is the amount of profits that Price Pfister made from sales of about 200,000 units of its Genesis Model 42 lavatory faucet, said Malcolm Sutherland, corporate patent counsel at Masco. The jury ruled that Price Pfister did not infringe Masco’s trade dress.

Kevin Rantin, marketing manager of product development for Price Pfister, said the faucet maker has not ruled out an appeal of the verdict, but called it an unlikely course of action. Instead, the company is already carrying out plans to make and sell a new version of the product. Masco filed a patent infringement suit in June 1994 in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia alleging that Price Pfister’s Genesis Model 42 copied the popular Delta 520 series single-handle lavatory faucet that Masco introduced in January 1990.

Federal District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who presided over the trial, ordered an immediate injunction Nov. 30 against all further manufacture and sales of Price Pfister’s infringing faucets. The order was stayed 10 days to permit Price Pfister to fulfill commitments already made to sell the infringing product to third-party builders and contractors. According to a copy of the judgment order and court injunction obtained by CONTRACTOR, Price Pfister can sell no more than 3,500 of the infringed product to builders and contractors, and the manufacturer must pay Masco $6.85 for each faucet sold during the 10-day period, which ended Dec. 10, 1994.

Several counterclaims filed by Price Pfister, including one that accused Masco of infringing Price Pfister’s patents, received rulings that were favorable to Masco or were dismissed, according to the judgment order. “We and Masco are very pleased with the outcome,” said Parker Bagley, one of the lead attorneys for Masco. “It’s a fair amount. It takes away their profits” from sales of the Genesis Model 42 faucet.

Chuck Dowd, Masco Plumbing Products Division president, called the trial “a landmark case for us in protecting our popular single-handle lavatory design from infringing manufacturers.” He said the company would review other potentially infringing designs — both foreign and domestic — and that “vigorous protection” of such cases would result. Ray Kennedy, Masco Building Products president, said the verdict protects Delta’s substantial financial investment in achieving its leadership role in faucet design. Kennedy also reaffirmed his determination to protect and defend the intellectual property of all Masco Corp. divisions.

Rantin said because the patent infringement was ruled non-willful the jury awarded the minimum amount of damages to Masco. “It could have been worse,” Rantin said. Bagley said a finding of willful patent infringement could have resulted in up to triple the amount of damages awarded to Masco and also payment of Masco’s attorney fees by Price Pfister. Rantin said the non-willful patent infringement ruling shows that there was a “breakdown in the patent system.” Price Pfister will retain the patent it received for the Genesis Model 42 faucet from the U.S. Patent Office in July 1994, he noted. The jury ruling prohibits the company from selling the product.

The jury deliberated for a few hours before reaching a verdict on the liability aspect of the case, Sutherland said. It took about a day for the jury to decide on the amount of damages to be awarded to Masco, he added. Bagley said the jury saw the bodies of the Delta 520 Series Model lavatory faucet and the Price Pfister Genesis Model 42 faucet during the trial and also Masco’s patent on the product. Both sides had requested a jury trial.

Price Pfister decided a few months ago to manufacture Genesis II, “a more distinguishable” version of the Genesis Model 42 faucet, Rantin said. The company has started to ship the new product to wholesalers and retailers, he said. In a press release issued Nov. 30 by Price Pfister, Doug Martinez, vice president/marketing, said the company decided to make a “strategic decision to fast track our Genesis II lavatory design to differentiate, enhance and improve the overall appearance of our current model.

“Over the past two months we have been preparing to produce this new body and to ship all 42 Series with this improved styling. The model numbers, UPC codes and prices will be the same as the previous 42 Series and will be available in all of the same finishes and handle styles,” Martinez said in the release. Martinez said thanks to its flexible manufacturing system, Price Pfister is able to switch over to the new design smoothly. “We’re committed to ensuring that our customers experience little or no disruption as a result of the ruling,” he said.

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