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Patent attorneys don’t usually drive around in lowrider trucks. But Byron Cooper understands what goes into the design of them. Although his 1986 Toyota 4Runner doesn’t hug the ground, Cooper has spent hours replacing various parts to give the SUV more power. His tinkering came in handy when he was working on his latest patent case. Cooper, a partner at Townsend and Townsend and Crew, is representing Mike McGaughy, a Fresno, Calif., auto parts dealer who invented a new kind of drop spindle — a device used to lower an automobile’s chassis. McGaughy saw that people were copying his spindle, so “he came to Townsend to see if he could get a patent,” Cooper said. The firm filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and on the day the patent issued, the firm sued Belltech Inc. for infringement in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Cooper said McGaughy’s drop spindle differs from others on the market because it allows sport trucks to be lowered while keeping their original suspension and smooth ride. The device won the Specialty Equipment Market Association Design Award from General Motors for Most Innovative Product in 2003. Belltech denies it has infringed McGaughy’s patent. “We believe the patent which is the subject of the suit is either anticipated or made obvious in light of prior art and is therefore invalid,” said Belltech attorney Mark Miller, a partner at Fresno’s Kimble MacMichael & Upton. Based in Sanger, near Fresno, Belltech sells sport truck suspension products. The company claims on its Web site that it “started the lowered sport truck craze with the award-winning Dropped Spindle.” McGaughy’s patent includes several Belltech brochures, catalogs and advertisements as reference material. Cooper said Belltech submitted this material to the patent office as prior art in an effort to prevent the patent from being issued. Disputes like McGaughy’s have become more common, Cooper said, as the aftermarket auto parts industry has grown. “When people come out with an aftermarket auto part, other people copy it,” Cooper said. “More clients are coming to us asking for patents on parts.” The case is Mike McGaughy’s Classic Chevy Parts v. Bell Super Tech, 0873.

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