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Harry Gaus developed a device to protect users of hand-held hair dryers from being shocked or electrocuted if the dryers are immersed in water. The device worked by shutting off the electrical current at the first sign of water pressure. Gaus applied for a patent on his Immersion Detector Circuit Interruptor in 1983; the patent was issued in 1986. Shortly after this, according to plaintiff’s counsel Alan M. Anderson, Gaus sent a copy of the patent to Conair Corp., a leading manufacturer of hand-held hair dryers, to see if it was interested. It wasn’t. But in early 1991, Underwriters Laboratories issued a new standard requiring an anti-shock protection device, and before long, Gaus met with Conair representatives. At this meeting, Conair indicated that it was buying something from another company, Leviton, and that it was concerned that this might violate the Gaus patent. Conair sent Gaus several devices it was using on its hair dryers to determine if these infringed, said plaintiff’s attorney Arthur S. Beeman. “Gaus said they do. [Conair] chose to ignore and flout Dr. Gaus’ patent rights.” In 1994, Gaus sued Conair, charging infringement. Conair denied any infringement and contended that the patent was invalid. Anderson said Gaus’ case was significantly aided by a letter from Leviton’s general counsel referring to his concern over possible infringement. If the circuits infringed, he wrote, “damages could be immeasurable.” “Conair’s witnesses weren’t that believable,” Anderson added, saying that the plaintiff’s counsel tripped up one of Conair’s patent attorneys with a prior inconsistent statement in a document he had previously filed with the U.S. Patent Office and confronted a former vice president of engineering for Leviton with an internal memo contradicting his testimony. On Feb. 1, a New York jury found willful infringement and awarded Gaus $28.5 million, which the court may treble. Plaintiff’s attorneys: Arthur S. Beeman of Frost Brown Todd in Louisville, Ky.; Alan M. Anderson of Fulbright & Jaworski in Minneapolis. Defense attorneys: John Triggs and Marlene Silverman of Greenberg Traurig in New York.

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