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Vita-Mix Loses Federal Circuit Infringement Appeal

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 21, 2012 3:07 PM

Between juice cleanses and smoothie bars, liquid diets seem to be all the rage. They're also really expensive, so some people prefer to make their own smoothies instead of paying the markup on a pre-packaged juice cleanse. That frugality had created an increased demand for fancy blenders.

The two big winners in the high-end blender wars have been Vita-Mix and Blendtec. That posed a problem for Blendtec, because it claimed that Vita-Mix had ripped off its design. A jury agreed with Blendtec in 2010, and ordered Vita-Mix to pay Blendtec almost $11 million. U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell awarded Blendtec an additional $11 million in enhanced damages, finding that Vita-Mix infringed Blendtec patents willfully and intentionally, and tried to conceal their infringing activity, Deseret News reports.

In September, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that award.

K-TEC, which manufactures and sells Blendtec commercial blending equipment, owns U.S. Patents 6,979,117 and 7,281,842. The patents generally disclose and claim a blending system that contains a blending jar with a specific geometry, which alters the flow pattern of the liquid during blending in a way that reduces cavitation.

In 2001, K-TEC began selling a five-sided blending jar embodying the '117 and '842 patents' claims. After K-TEC acquired a number of customers in 2001 and 2002, Vita-Mix began to consider upgrading its existing four-sided container. In that process, its "example" design was K-TEC's five-sided container. Although Vita-Mix attempted different design changes, it introduced its new MP container in May 2003. Vita-Mix personnel admitted that the MP was a copy of K-TEC's five-sided container.

K-TEC notified Vita-Mix in March 2005 that the container infringed the parent patent of the '117 and '842 patents. In late 2005, one of K-TEC's employees notified Vita-Mix personnel that the '117 patent would soon issue and that Vita-Mix's MP container would infringe that patent The day after the patent issued, the record shows that Vita-Mix's CEO knew that "the K-TEC patent for the MP container" had issued.

Vita-Mix altered the container design to the XP container, and concluded that it had created a container that was "equal to our old design in blending performance" and that most of its customers would "never even notice the change." K-TEC claimed that the XP infringed its patents as much as the MP, and continued legal action against Vita-Mix, eventually winning the $22 million judgment.

Though Vita-Mix argued to the Federal Circuit panel that the district court decided the case incorrectly, Federal Circuit Judges Pauline Newman, Sharon Prost and Alan Lourie ruled this month that Vita-Mix's claims were "without merit" and that the trial was fair, Desert News reports.

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