Federal Court Awards $72.6M in Patent Case Over Firefighter Safety Device

May 11, 2009

A federal court jury in San Antonio, Texas, returned a $72.6 million damage award last Thursday against a Dallas-based law firm over a botched patent application involving a safety device designed to help save downed firefighters.

The jury returned its verdict against Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld after deliberating more than four days.

Louis Herbert Stumberg and his late partner James Fulton invented the device and assigned ownership rights to North-South Corp., which granted exclusive distribution rights to Air Measurement Technologies Inc. They hired an attorney with Akin Gump in 1989 to file a series of patents.

A call to Akin Gump from The Associated Press seeking comment Thursday night was not immediately returned.

The plaintiffs alleged Akin Gump failed to disclose to the United States Patent and Trademark Office information that was material to the patent, and did so with an intent to deceive the office.

The jury in the four-week trial found Akin Gump fully responsible for errors in obtaining a patent for the device.

AMT and Stumberg initially sued six parties for infringement, and wound up getting settlements totaling $9 million, according to John Raley, one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs.

“When these actions were settled, they were settled much more cheaply than they should have been settled for,” Raley said in a story for San Antonio Express-News. “The royalty that should have been awarded to these plaintiffs was far less than if Akin Gump had done their job properly in handling the patent applications.”

The plaintiffs found that the patents were weak and couldn’t be enforced.

“I am pleased that the jury so carefully considered the evidence. The verdict is just,” Raley said. “The damages are supported by the evidence.”

Raley said the invention was for a device that would automatically sound an alarm if a firefighter went down and didn’t move for a specific period. The device would also lead rescuers to the firefighter.

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