Jury Awards Wirtgen $12.9M Against Caterpillar in Milling Machine Lawsuit

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Updated Feb 27, 2024
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Editor's Note: This article was updated February 27, 2024, with response from Wirtgen's legal team and more details about the patents.

A federal jury sided with Wirtgen America in its patent infringement lawsuit against Caterpillar over its road milling machines, awarding the company $12.9 million in damages, according to Reuters.

The companies have been locked in a seven-year legal battle in the U.S. District Court in Delaware, both claiming patent infringement.

The legal battle began in 2017 when Wirtgen, whose parent company is John Deere, sued Caterpillar claiming infringement on 13 of its patents. Caterpillar countersued, alleging Wirtgen infringed on three of its patents for its cold planers.

Judge Joshua D. Wolson ruled January 4 that Wirtgen did not infringe on two of Caterpillar’s claims on one of its patents. He also ruled that Caterpillar did not infringe on one claim on one of Wirtgen’s patents.

That left the remaining claims left to a jury to decide. The judge determined that because both companies’ experts offered conflicting testimony, he could not rule on the other claims being considered.

According to Reuters, the jury decided that Caterpillar infringed on five of Wirtgen’s patents.

Germany-based Wirtgen, with North American headquarters in Tennessee, alleged that Caterpillar bought two Wirtgen milling machines, a W 210i and a W 120, which it took apart and analyzed. Caterpillar then began importing Cat PM600 Series, PM800 Series and PM300 Series models into the U.S. that contained Wirtgen’s patented devices that are found on its milling machines and recyclers, the suit alleged.

Caterpillar denied any infringement on Wirtgen’s patents and made infringement claims of its own for three of its patents. It issued the following statement:

"We respect the jury's verdict and will review our legal options."

Since the case was filed in 2017, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in 2019 that Caterpillar infringed on three Wirtgen patents. Judge Wolson, however, ruled in January that was not enough for him to issue a decision for summary judgment. The jury trial began February 13 and ended February 22 with the verdict.  

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The jury found that five of six Wirtgen America patents were willfully infringed, according to Wirtgen’s legal team, which consists of Patterson Intellectual Property Law and Sterne Kessler firms.

The infringed patents, according to the lawyers, were as follows:

(Note: Only the last three digits of the nine-digit patent numbers are presented.)

  • Patent 309 – Floating mount on front and rear axle, increasing height an obstacle can be ridden over by only one wheel.
  • Patent 641 – Reverse travel shutoff feature. Monitoring device that senses the distance between the milling drum and the ground, and when the machine is traveling in the same direction of the rotation of the milling drum, it triggers a safety mechanism to prevent contact of the milling drum with the ground surface.
  • Patent 530 – Measuring device to regulate the height-adjustable lifting columns.
  • Patent 788 – Leveling system to sense and control milling depth and/or slope.
  • Patent 972 – Controller and sensors that control the extension and retraction of one or more lifting columns to maintain the machine frame parallel to the ground or to position the machine frame at a predetermined milling level.

For more details on the case, see Equipment World’s previous coverage by clicking here.