Jury rules Brunswick infringed on Cobalt patent

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Cobalt first introduced the retractable swim step in 2010.

Cobalt first introduced the retractable swim step in 2010.

A federal court jury ruled that Brunswick Corp. willfully infringed upon a Cobalt Boats LLC patent when it offered retractable swim steps on several Sea Ray models.

The jury returned a $2.69 million verdict, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia on Wednesday.

That amount could be increased to fully account for all of the infringing products sold, according to Cobalt Boats.

Brunswick Corp. plans to appeal the ruling, spokesman Daniel Kubera told Trade Only Today.

“While disappointed in the outcome, Brunswick Corp. remains confident in its position on this matter and plans to appeal the recent verdict,” Kubera said in an email. “Brunswick respects the intellectual property rights of others and designed its step to prevent infringement. Because the matter remains an ongoing subject of litigation, the company will have no further comment.”

Cobalt Boats CEO Paxson St. Clair told Trade Only Today that he was not surprised by Brunswick’s plan to appeal.

"We're certainly not surprised; they’ve been throwing every appeal possible at this thing for well over two years, so it’s no surprise that they’re going to continue to do that," he said.

Cobalt Boats sued Sea Ray parent company Brunswick in 2015, saying it had infringed on patent No. 8,375,880 that Cobalt received in 2013. Cobalt first introduced the retractable swim step in 2010. In its initial complaint, Cobalt said Sea Ray’s “reckless” infringement of the patent had caused Cobalt to lose sales.

Brunswick countered that there was no “actual or legal basis” for the lawsuit, adding that the “defendants deny all allegations of patent infringement.”

The original complaint cited Sea Ray dealerships in Virginia that had sold Sundeck 220, 240, 270 and 290 models, which have the swim step. Cobalt is based in Neodesha, Kan.; the Brunswick Boat Group headquarters is in Knoxville, Tenn.

Last fall, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office upheld the validity of Cobalt Boats’ swim-step patent, allowing the company to move forward with its lawsuit.

On Wednesday the jury determined that the patent infringement was willful, according to court documents.

Cobalt called that “a rare finding in patent litigation that is reserved for only the most egregious acts of infringement.”

“Because of the willfulness finding, the jury award may be increased,” the company said in a statement issued today. “To protect its right to exclusively sell its swim step, Cobalt also intends to seek a permanent injunction to stop Brunswick from selling additional infringing products.”

"It’s obviously been a long and expensive and emotional process, but we were standing up for what was right,” St. Clair told Trade Only Today. “We knew they were infringing on our patent, and we tried in the beginning to find a reasonable solution to that. Unfortunately, it had to go all the way to a jury trial, which in today’s world is usual in patent suits. The jury clearly saw it our way, and we’re going to aggressively pursue what is right — that’s the bottom line."

"We are gratified that the jury weighed the evidence carefully and found in our favor,” St. Clair said in a statement. “Our swim-step innovation is an important feature, and it was wrong for Brunswick to infringe our patent rights. We are pleased to know that product innovation is still protected and that patent infringement won’t be tolerated in our industry.”

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