Patent expert: No simple way to ensure companies aren't infringing patents

By Hanna Nakano | Oct 16, 2015

PHILADELPHIA - A Pennsylvania company has filed a lawsuit against a fire sprinklers manufacturer and supplier, claiming patent infringement.

Victaulic Co. claims The Viking Corp. is infringing on its 399 patents, with a certain flexible sprinkler connection.

One patent law expert tells the Pennsylvania Record there’s no real way for companies to ensure they’re not infringing upon anyone else’s patent. Often companies find out by receiving a cease and desist letter or legal filings.

“It’s actually somewhat hard and expensive to determine whether you’re infringing someone’s patent or not,” patent expert and Temple University Beasley School of Law professor and associate dean for research Gregory Mandel told the Record. “Even if you are being very diligent about that, you can still never be sure.”

Mandel said it’s often better financially for a company to be accused than to make sure it's in the clear from the beginning.

Because patents describe the technology using the English language, sometimes it’s unclear whether a patent has been infringed, Mandel said. Mandel said it takes valuable time and resources to investigate patents, so many companies continue using technology they created independently without looking into it.

“Once a company or a person gets a patent, that gives them rights against anybody else, whether they knew about the patent or not, even if the defendant independently created a similar sprinkler product,” Mandel told the Record. “Even if the plaintiff has a valid patent, even if they created it and didn’t copy it, they could still be liable for infringement.”

Mandel said it typically takes millions of dollars and many years to see a patent case all the way through the legal process. More often than not, he said, these companies agree to a settlement.

Victaulic filed its suit in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The company seeks judgment declaring patent infringement against The Viking Corp. and an order forcing it to pay damages, plus interest, court costs and attorneys fees.

Viking Corp. declined to comment on this case.

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