ITC judge rules ZF transmission infringes Eaton patent; final ruling due in April

A U.S. International Trade Commission judge issued an initial ruling Jan. 7 that automated truck transmissions manufactured and marketed by ZF Friedrichshafen AG, ArvinMeritor and ZFMeritor infringe an Eaton patent and are being unlawfully imported into the United States.

The ITC will issue a final verdict April 7.

The ITC accepted only one of 76 patent infringement claims Eaton filed. That particular claim covered aspects of the ZF FreedomLine transmission’s interaction with other systems, according to an ArvinMeritor press release issued four days after the ruling.

“We are pleased with the initial decision,” said Gary Klasen, a spokesman for Eaton. He said the company would wait for the ITC’s final decision before speculating on actions resulting from the case.

Should the ITC’s final decision be in favor of Eaton, ZF, ArvinMeritor and ZFM could be prohibited from importing and selling of ZF Freedomline transmission systems and components in the United States.

The Tariff Act of 1930 made it unlawful to import or sell items that infringe a valid and enforceable U.S. trademark. Because manufacturers are charged with protecting their own trademarks, a favorable ITC ruling is needed before items that potentially infringe patents are blocked from importation.

Eaton President James E. Sweetnam said the company would vigorously defend its patents against infringement by other companies. Since 1997, the company has filed three patent actions against ArvinMeritor and ZF, including the present case.

ArvinMeritor prevailed against Eaton on appeal in a patent infringement suit against its ESS transmission. The company — with ZF — also succeeded against Eaton in a patent office action to wrest ownership of a torque prediction patent.

ArvinMeritor filed a patent infringement lawsuit in North Carolina against Eaton last year alleging infringement of its U.S. patent covering torque prediction. That case is still pending.

Vernon Baker, ArvinMeritor vice president and general counsel, said his company would appeal to the Federal Court of Appeals if the ITC judge’s initial decision proves conclusive.

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“We are confident, upon appeal, that we will have a different ruling, and that we will prevail in offering truck operators a proven choice of technology,” said Tom Gosnell, president of ArvinMeritor’s commercial vehicle systems business group.

Eaton, a producer of power systems and services for industrial, mobile and aircraft equipment, and Arvin Meritor both amass annual sales of approximately $8 billion. The latter supplies integrated systems, modules and components to the motor vehicle industry.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at [email protected].