On February 16, 2016 the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) affirmed a modified preliminary injunction against Toro and Exmark Manufacturing Co., Inc. (collectively Toro) for the companies’ infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,186,475. The patent deals with lawnmowers equipped with platform suspension systems.  The injunction prevented Toro from manufacturing, selling, using, and offering to sell lawnmowers that used a platform suspension system.

Metalcraft of Mayville, Inc., d/b/a Scag Power Equipment (Scag) manufactures commercial riding lawn mowers. As claimed and disclosed in the ‘475 patent, Scag developed a suspended operator platform for a ride-on lawnmower or other riding light utility vehicle connected to a rigid chassis by a suspension system. To compete with Scag’s new product Toro released its own line of riding lawnmowers with suspended operator platforms. On May 5, 2016, Scag filed an infringement action against Toro in the Eastern District of Washington and simultaneously filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. The court granted the motion for a preliminary injunction on August 1, 2016. Toro filed a notice of appeal and a motion to stay the preliminary injunction. The court denied Toro’s motion to stay the injunction and Toro appealed.

In order to obtain a preliminary injunction the moving party must establish: (a) that it is likely to succeed on the merits in the litigation, (b) that it is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (c) that the balance of equities tips in its favor; and (d) that an injunction is in the public interest.

With respect to the issue of Scag’s likelihood of success on the merits, Toro maintained that their design did not infringe as the accused devices did not included the claimed limitation of “an entire body of an operator.”  Specifically, Toro argued that the steering controls of their mower are mounted to the chassis, not the operator platform; therefore the operator’s arms and hands are not supported by the platform. Toro further contended that the district court rejected this defense erroneously because the court’s construction of “an entire body of an operator” excludes hands and arms. The CAFC disagreed with this position holding that the district court did not conclude that “an entire body of an operator” excluded arms and hands and rejected Toro’s proposed claim construction that the steering controls are not claimed as a component of the operator platform.

Toro further argued that the “entire body of an operator” limitation requires the steering controls be mounted on the operator’s platform or else the operator’s hands will not be isolated from shock load. The CAFC stated that Toro improperly equated the support of the entire body with isolating every aspect of an operator’s body from shock. However, the ‘475 patent treats the support of the entire body and shock isolation as two distinct and separate aspects.

The CAFC then examined Toro’s arguments regarding the obviousness[1] of Scag’s design. Toro alleged that claim 21 would be obvious in light of Henriksso and Sasaki patents. The CAFC rejected this argument as Toro failed to raise a substantial question of validity and stated “a patent ‘composed of several elements is not proved obvious merely by demonstrating that each of its elements was, independently, known in the prior art’”. Toro offered “no reason, and the Court cannot imagine one, that a person of ordinary skill in this field would combine motorcycle shock with a suspended truck cab and come up with a suspended operator platform.”

Regarding the potential for Scag to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction, the CAFC found the district court did not abuse its discretion in holding that Scag would suffer such harm. While Toro argued that the district court ignored evidence it presented of at least twelve other companies that sell mowers designed to decrease shock loads, the CAFC stated “[t]he fact that other infringers may be in the marketplace does not negate irreparable harm.” They further determined that “the damage to Scag is irreparable because it is impossible to quantify the damages caused by the loss of a potentially lifelong customer.”

With respect to the balance of equities and the public interest, Toro argued that the harm an injunction would bring them far outweighs the harm denying the injunction would bring to Scag and that the injunction would harm the public because it disrupts the status quo. The CAFC that “[w]e are not persuaded that the district court’s contrary determination was an abuse of discretion and decline to disturb the grant of the preliminary injunction on these bases.”

Lastly, the court rejected Toro’s argument that the district court’s preliminary injunction was overly broad. The district court’s order enjoins Toro from “making, using, selling, and offering to sell lawnmowers equipped with platform suspension systems that infringe Scag’s patent, U.S. Patent No. 8,186,475.” The CAFC held that the injunction was not overly broad.

The CAFC concluded “[f]or the foregoing reasons, we hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting Scag’s motion for a preliminary injunction.”

Click here to read the full opinion.

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[1] A claim is invalid for obviousness “if the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art are such that the claimed invention as a whole would have been obvious before the effective filing fate of the claimed invention to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the claimed invention pertains.” 35 U.S.C. § 103.