WILMINGTON, Del. — A jury before the Delaware federal district court has ordered Schrader International Inc. to pay $31.2 million to two Swiss companies in a patent infringement case involving sensors for tire pressure monitoring systems.
The jury found Feb. 14 that plaintiffs Wasica Finance G.m.b.H. and BlueArc Finance A.G. had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Schrader both induced and contributed to infringement of the patent owned by Wasica and BlueArc for pneumatic tire monitoring sensors.
It also found that Schrader had not proved its affirmative defense of patent exhaustion.
According to the complaint filed originally in July 2013, Karl Leeman and Heinz Ruchti, the primary owners of Wasica and BlueArc, jointly owned a company called Uwatec A.G. in the early 1990s.
Messrs. Leeman and Ruchti hired two inventors at that time to develop technology for the scuba-diving business, the complaint said.
While working on that assignment, it said, the inventors developed sensors able to monitor air pressure in pneumatic tires. They assigned their patent rights to Uwatec, which received the U.S. patent on the invention in 1997.
Messrs. Leeman and Ruchti later sold Uwatec, but kept the patent to the sensors, the complaint said.
Schrader, according to the complaint, "has been and is actively inducing others to infringe and/or contributing to the infringement of the (Uwatec) patent." Schrader denied all allegations in its response.
The invention became especially valuable in 2000 with Congressional passage of the TREAD Act, which required TPMS on all new passenger vehicles sold in the U.S., according to Fish & Richardson P.C., the legal firm handling the complaint of Wasica and BlueArc.
"The verdict shows that small, innovative companies can stand up to the market leader when they feel their patented technology has been taken," William Woodford, the Fish & Richardson attorney who led the litigation, said.
Schrader executives did not return calls seeking comment on the case or on whether they would appeal the verdict.