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Caterpillar is facing added scrutiny from the federal government in the form of a patent infringement investigation opened Tuesday by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC).
After the examination of a patent infringement complaint filed by the American arm of German road equipment manufacturer Wirtgen, members of the USITC voted to investigate certain Caterpillar road milling machines and their components, according to a release from the commission.
“The products at issue in the investigation are used to mill asphalt and concrete pavement to create an even base for the construction of a new surface,” the USITC release states. “The accused products include road milling machines, and components of a road milling machine such as: scrapers, auxiliary drives, height-adjustable lighting columns, milling drum uncoupling functionality and hydraulically stabilized chassis.”
Antioch, Tennessee-based Wirtgen America filed its complaint, which alleges violation of section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, on July 19. Wirtgen is seeking a limited exclusion order from the commission along with cease and desist orders.
In a statement provided to Equipment World, Cat says it is prepared for a legal battle.
“We are reviewing Wirtgen’s claims and are committed to defending our products to the fullest extent,” the statement reads. “Because litigation is ongoing, we cannot comment any further.”
The patent complaint names Caterpillar and four of its subsidiaries as respondents to the investigation: Caterpillar Bitelli SPA and Caterpillar Prodotti Stradali S.r.L., both of Italy; Caterpillar Americas CV of Switzerland; and Caterpillar Paving Products, Inc., of Minnesota.
According to the International Trade Commission Trial Lawyers Association, a limited exclusion order would prohibit Cat from importing any products found to infringe Wirtgen patents into the U.S.
The patent infringement allegations come at an interesting time for both companies.
Cat is already under a separate federal investigation for an alleged tax evasion scheme. Three Cat facilities were raided by law enforcement officials in early March and the company has been accused of avoiding more than $2 billion in taxes by moving select profits to offshore shell companies located in Switzerland and Bermuda.
And Wirtgen was recently purchased by Cat’s American competitor John Deere in a massive $5.2 billion deal. Deere, which doesn’t not currently manufacture any road construction equipment, will become the first manufacturer to have crushing and screening, as well as mobile equipment, all under one company umbrella.
Since the merger between Deere and Wirtgen hasn’t yet taken place, it’s unclear what kind of role Deere plays in this infringement filing. We’ve reached out to Deere for comment as well but hadn’t heard back as of publishing.
A quick search on Law360, a search engine for legal cases, finds that the case was assigned to Judge Richard G. Andrews in the Delaware federal district court. Law360 also lays out all of the specific patents referenced in the case. You can find the listing below.
Andrews will schedule and hold an evidentiary hearing and will make an initial ruling as to whether there is infringement. This ruling will then be subject to review by the USITC. The USITC says that within 45 of the opening of its investigation, the commission will set a target dat for completion.
7,828,309 – Road-building machine
8,118,316 – Operational methods for a road-building machine
4,804,266 – Continuously rotating grating rapid-scan spectrophotometer
3,750,812 – BOAT LOADER FOR VEHICLE
4,676,117 – Spur-gear system
7,530,641 – Automotive construction machine, as well as method for working ground surfaces
8,113,592 – Automotive construction engine and lifting column for a contruction engine
9,010,871 – Automotive construction machine, as well as lifting column for a construction machine
8,308,395 – Road construction machine, leveling device, as well as method for controlling the milling depth or milling slope in a road construction machine
7,946,788 – Road construction machine, leveling device, as well as method for controlling the milling depth or milling slope in a road construction machine
9,624,628 – Auxiliary drive
9,656,530 – Automotive construction machine, as well as lifting column for a construction machine
8,511,932 – Road construction machine, leveling device, as well as method for controlling the milling depth or milling slope in a road construction machine
8,690,474 – Road construction machine, leveling device, as well as method for controlling the milling depth or milling slope in a road construction machine
9,644,340 – Scraper device, as well as construction machine