Court Resolves Patent Dispute over Baseball Chest Protector

Oct 12, 2007

A federal judge from the Northern District of Illinois has concluded that a sporting goods company infringed upon the patent held by another sporting goods company when it sold a baseball chest protector that incorporates shoulder guards to protect the top and back areas of a catcher’s shoulders from deflected baseballs.
Plaintiff Everything Baseball Limited, LLC was assigned the patent in July of 2000. Shortly thereafter, EBL agreed to its own licensing agreement with Defendant Team Athletic Goods, Inc. In 2004, TAG informed the plaintiff that it was canceling the agreement as it didn’t expect additional sales for the model it was selling. However, TAG did begin selling a new “Pro Shoulder” model.
The plaintiff filed suit on September 23, 2005, alleging that after expiration of the licensing agreements, TAG continued to sell chest protectors, in particular the “Pro Shoulder” model, that infringed the ‘226 Patent. The defendant countered that the patent was invalid, among other things.
Central to the case was disputed claim language.
For example, the plaintiff advocated a broad construction of “shoulder guard.” The defendant wanted the construction limited to the “preferred embodiment” being advocated by the plaintiff that is that it is “made of plastic or any other material that is sufficiently rigid to maintain a ‘U’ or ‘J’ shape but that is flexible enough for comfort.”
The court noted, however, that “nowhere is the particular material used for the shoulder guards, or its ability to form and maintain a particular shape, characterized as ‘important to the invention.’ Nor does the specification contain any language suggesting that the patentees intended for the preferred embodiment to be ‘strictly coextensive’ with the claim, or for that embodiment to ‘define the outer limits of the claim.’
“Indeed, the specification hints at the opposite: in summarizing the invention, the patentees stated that the shoulder guards ‘are of lightweight material, such as the material used for other portions of the chest protector,’ whereas in the preferred embodiment, the shoulder guards are ‘preferably made of plastic’ or other sufficiently rigid, yet flexible material. This language suggests that the ‘plastic’ or similar material referred to in the preferred embodiment is indeed provided merely as an example of the shoulder guards’ construction.”
“In sum, TAG has identified nothing in the specification that warrants a departure from the general rule, repeatedly articulated by the Federal Circuit, that claim terms are not to be limited in accor dance with the preferred embodiment.
“The court thus declines to adopt Defendant’s proposed narrow construction of ‘shoulder guard,’ which relies entirely on the description found in the preferred embodiment.”
Similarly, the court found for the plaintiff on other grounds, affectively ending the dispute.
Everything Baseball Limited, LLC, v. Team Athletic Goods, INC.; N.D. Ill.; 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66191, No. 05 C 5526; 9/4/07
Attorneys of record: (for plaintiff) Lee F. Grossman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jeffrey Mark Drake, Mark M. Grossman, Grossman Law Offices, Chicago, IL. (for defendants) Allison Michelle Dudley, Valauskas & Pine, Chicago, IL; Jeffrey A Pine, Valaukas & Pine LLC, Chicago, IL. Andrew Theodore Staes, Stephen David Scallan, Staes & Scallan P.C., Chicago, IL.


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