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Bennett Regulator Guards, Inc. v. Canadian Meter Company, Inc., et al.

Posted in Opinion Commentary by Jake Ward on June 19, 2006

(Fed. Cir. 2006, 05-1425), non-precedential 

The CAFC vacated a grant of summary judgement by the district court (N.D. Ohio), finding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the public nature of testing of the accused product, as well as a genuine issue of material fact as to whether knowledge of the product was accessible to the public, prior to invention of the subject matter of Bennett's U.S. Pat. No. 5,810,029.

The technology at issue was Meter's "Splash Guard," a device that keeps water from splashing onto the screen of a gas regulator, and freezing in cold conditions.  The majority held that testimony that the regulatory testing of the product may have been "proprietary" raised a genuine issue of material fact as to the public nature of the testing.  Additionally, the majority held that while letters to potential customers regarding the accused product may indicate intent to publicize the product, they do not establish that technical knowledge of the product was made public.  "One can publicize that a new product exists while still keeping an enabling disclosure of the structure and function of the product secret."

In his dissenting opinion, Judge Mayer details additional facts relevant to the analysis.  Regarding the letters, a technical sketch had been provided.  Further, during sales tours, samples of the device along with a letter stating "please advise of further requirements and customer feedback," were distributed to American gas companies.  Thus, corroborated testimony showed that Meter disclosed the structure and function of its device in the United States, constituting invalidating knowledge available to the public.

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