Federal court sides with Fla. manufacturer in case over prosthesis coverings patent

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Oct 7, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) - Last month, a federal judge ruled in favor of a Florida company that makes and sells liners for use with prosthetics.

Judge Gregory Frost, for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, handed down his 81-page ruling in The Ohio Willow Wood Company v. ALPS South LLC Sept. 24.

The decision comes after a decade of legal wrangling in multiple courts, renders the patent at issue invalid and allows ALPS to collect attorneys’ fees in addition to the $15.5 million in damages.

OWW, based in Mt. Sterling, Ohio, sued ALPS for patent infringement and related claims in December 2004.

The Ohio company is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 5,830,237, which involves technology related to coverings for amputees employing a prosthesis.

The relevant claim discloses a device in the form of a cushioned sock that fits over a residuum, or an amputation stump, and that features a gel coating on the interior surface of the sock.

ALPS, which also makes and sells such liners, including stretchable fabric covers lined with gel, filed a counterclaim for inequitable conduct against OWW in initially prosecuting the ‘237 patent.

The St. Petersburg-based company argued that the patent was invalid because non-party Silipos Inc. -- a competitor of both OWW and ALPS -- manufactured and sold a product called the Silosheath in the early 1990s. The product featured a nylon fabric covering with a gel coating on the interior surface.

Frost initially ruled against ALPS, but a three-judge panel overturned that decision, arguing that the company’s competitor had indeed withheld “material information” and made “several misrepresentations” when appearing before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The appeals panel sent the case back to Frost’s court for trial, which began July 30. The trial lasted two days.

In his order, Frost said ALPS had shown that OWW had acted with “deceptive intent” and had made “misrepresentations” to the PTO.

“ALPS therefore has met its burden in proving deceptive intent by clear and convincing evidence,” the judge wrote.

Shumaker Loop & Kendrick LLP attorney Ronald Christaldi represented ALPS in the trial.

“This decision, coming on the heels of our victory during the appeals process, marks an important shift in how the courts are dealing with inequitable conduct,” Christaldi said.

“Federal circuit case law handed down in 2011 made it much more difficult to prove inequitable conduct, but the ALPS decision shows that doesn’t mean companies can get away with intentional misrepresentations.”

In addition to its prosthetic liners, ALPS has designed a one-of-a-kind semi-automatic revolver, an oxygen-injected engine that increases a car’s horsepower, a prosthetic foot, improved sleep apnea masks and a silicone mask that helps facial surgery patients recover more quickly.

Christaldi, who also serves as the chair-elect of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, said the ruling is not only great for the company, but also for other entrepreneurs.

“The court has sent a strong message that patents must be truthfully obtained and that deceptive companies will be punished,” he said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at patents@legalnewsline.com.

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