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It was an unusual ruling for a federal jury to make in a patent case: Throw out the plaintiff company’s patents. In doing so, the jury dismissed Atlanta-based Riverwood International Corp.’s claim for $8 million in damages against a Cincinnati firm that Riverwood alleged had infringed on its machinery patents. Riverwood Int’l v. R.A. Jones & Co., No. 1:98-cv-2840 (N.D. Ga. Aug. 10, 2001). The jury ruled in favor of R.A. Jones & Co., halting the apparent efforts of the larger corporation to run the smaller R.A. Jones out of business, says defense attorney Jerry B. Blackstock, a partner at Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy in Atlanta. R.A. Jones makes machines that package soft drinks. Riverwood also makes such machines and sells paperboard for the packaging. When Riverwood claimed patent infringement R.A. Jones responded that Riverwood’s machinery patents weren’t valid. Blackstock says there are only two ways to invalidate a patent — go back to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a re-examination or test its validity in court. “You can test a patent in court, as these were,” he says. “They can be invalidated � although it’s rare.” The patents in question involve machines that package canned beverages into paperboard cartons, Blackstock says. Each machine can pack into cartons as many as 3,000 cans a minute, he says. Each machine also may utilize as much as $2 million a year in paperboard cartons. Riverwood, which draws the bulk of its revenues from the sale of paperboard, leases its patented carton machines to paperboard purchasers, contingent on the lessee using only Riverwood paperboard, according to the attorney. “[Riverwood] makes and leases the machines, often times at a loss, in order to be able to get contracts with its customers for paperboard,” says Blackstock. The Mead Corp., Riverwood’s only other competitor in the carton-making market and the firm that sells primarily to Coca-Cola, also bundles machinery leases with paperboard sales, Blackstock says. Riverwood also has sued Mead, claiming that firm infringed on two of the machine patents involved in its case against R.A. Jones. By contrast, R.A. Jones is solely a machinery company, Blackstock says. If it were allowed to remain in the market, and sell carton machines without linking it to the sale of other products, beverage companies could negotiate separate deals for machines and paperboard. Soft drink and beverage manufacturers — who have followed the case with great interest — “want to be able to shop for their paperboard,” Blackstock says. “They want to own the machines so they are not tied to any one [paperboard] supplier,” as they were before R.A. Jones entered the market. If Jones had been found to have infringed on Riverwood’s patents, the ruling could have bankrupted the company, which sells $50 million to $100 million in machinery annually, Blackstock says. Last Friday, Riverwood filed a motion for a new trial, and Blackstock says he expects the paperboard company to appeal. Riverwood was represented by Wellington M. Manning Jr. and Tim Williams of Dority & Manning in Greenville, S.C., and M. Russell Wofford Jr. of Atlanta’s Alston & Bird. Blackstock’s defense team included PoGo attorney Leslie Zacks and Gregory Ahrens and Drew Blatt of the Cincinnati patent firm Wood Herron & Evans. U.S. District Judge Beverly R. Martin presided over the case.

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