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Cobalt files contempt motion against Brunswick in Sea Ray case

By Tim Hennagir

Cobalt Boats, LLC, has filed a motion in federal court accusing Brunswick Corp.'s Sea Ray brand of violating an injunction order by continuing to infringe Cobalt's patent on its retractable swim step.

Cobalt believes Sea Ray continues to infringe Cobalt's patent in the face of a jury finding that Sea Ray willfully infringed Cobalt's patent and a court order permanently enjoining Sea Ray from further infringement, the company stated in a news release.

Cobalt asserts that the swim steps currently sold on Sea Ray boats are not significantly different from the Sea Ray swim steps that the jury found to be infringing at trial.

As a result, Cobalt believes Brunswick is in contempt of the court's order and that the Sea Ray branded boats continue to infringe on Cobalt's patent.

Cobalt filed the contempt motion May 11 to continue protecting its innovation.

The case dates back to January 2015, when Cobalt sued Sea Ray Boats and its parent company Brunswick because Brunswick's Sea Ray boats infringed on Cobalt's patented "retractable swim step."

According to Cobalt, the retractable swim step is an innovation the company introduced to the market in 2010. Cobalt contends the retractable swim step was valuable to its consumers, and Cobalt had an issued patent that would allow the company to protect its innovation.

Once Cobalt learned of the infringement by Sea Ray boats, Cobalt promptly filed suit to protect its rights. Despite repeated efforts by Brunswick to delay or prevent Cobalt's claims from getting to a jury trial, Cobalt persevered and finally got its day in court.

Last June, a federal jury in the U.S,  District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, returned a verdict that Brunswick's Sea Ray boats willfully infringed claims of Cobalt's patent, U.S. Patent No. 8,375,880.

In October 2017, after the jury's verdict, the presiding judge adjusted Cobalt's award upward to $5.4 million and awarded Cobalt its attorneys' fees.

To protect its right to exclusively sell its swim step, Cobalt sought and obtained a permanent injunction to stop Sea Ray from selling additional infringing products. The permanent injunction bound Sea Ray to not infringe the '880 Patent.

Cobalt's most recent court filing addresses Sea Ray's actions in contempt of the court's injunction order and seeks further penalties against Sea Ray's parent company, Brunswick.

"Sea Ray and Brunswick's arrogance and defiance in this matter has been mind-blowing to all of us involved in this three-plus year process," said Cobalt Boats president Paxson St. Clair in a May 15 news release. "Cobalt is now forced to ask the court to hold them in contempt in order to protect itself from a larger company with no regard for Cobalt's innovation."

Cobalt Boats was represented at trial by the law firms of Stinson Leonard Street LLP and Troutman Sanders LLP and by Stinson Leonard Street LLP in the previous appeal.

Brunswick Corp. disputes the inflammatory claims included in Cobalt Boat’s May 15 press release regarding the ongoing swim step litigation between the two companies, stated Daniel Kubera, Brunswick’s director of media relations and corporation communications.

The company's emailed response to Boating Industry included these additional comments:

  • The original judgment previously entered in Cobalt’s favor on Oct. 31, 2017, is subject to an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which is expected to rule within a year;
  • Brunswick has diligently complied with, and respects the permanent injunction and all other orders of the court;
  • To comply and to avoid further dispute, Brunswick designed a new swim step last year, and made Cobalt aware of the redesigned Sea Ray swim step when it was first developed;
  • Cobalt was made aware of the newly designed Sea Ray swim step when it was first developed last summer. Design drawings, exemplar components, and an entire swim platform were all provided to Cobalt as part of the disclosure process;
  • Brunswick has been open and transparent with Cobalt concerning the new design throughout the process;
  • Despite these disclosures and transparency, until very recently, Cobalt provided no meaningful feedback on the new design yet now claims violation of the court’s injunction;
  • In light of Brunswick's efforts to inform and engage Cobalt in the process, it is perplexing and disappointing that they have pursued additional action before the court and that they waited so long to do so.

Finally, Brunswick said it remains committed to honoring the court’s orders, the intellectual property rights of others, and to pursuing and defending its intellectual property interests.

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