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If mosquitoes are enemy number one at American Biophysics Corp., then patent infringers run a close second. And the 14-year-old company, which makes a popular, pioneering mosquito trap, doesn’t just swat away infringing products, it buries them. That’s literally what happened last summer, after Lentec Inc., a rival of ABC, was forced to liquidate its assets in federal bankruptcy proceedings. ABC’s lawyers at Pillsbury Winthrop walked away with — among other things — more than 2,400 of Lentec’s mosquito traps. Then they called in bulldozers to crush the traps at local landfills. “We’re not big fans of having our product category polluted,” says John Rudd, an early investor in ABC, who’s now the company’s vice president for regulatory and legal affairs. “We wanted to make sure the category wasn’t poisoned by these inferior products.” If that sounds harsh, that’s exactly the way Rudd and his boss, ABC president and chief executive Ray Iannetta, intend it. ABC, according to Iannetta, has invested millions to develop — and patent — technology for its Mosquito Magnet traps. And in the past four years, with the help of Pillsbury Winthrop, the North Kingston, R.I.-based company has used its patents — seven issued and six pending in the United States — to beat back infringers in the courtroom, and carve out a market for its traps. The strategy has paid off: Between 1998 and 2003, the privately held ABC boosted revenue from $212,000 to $54.6 million, earning first place on Inc. magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 fastest-growing private U.S. companies. In 2004 the 120-plus-employee company pulled in roughly $100 million in revenue, and according to Iannetta plowed about $8 million of that back into research and development. “We’ve been paving a lot of new ground here,” Iannetta says. The Mosquito Magnet, which can trap thousands of mosquitoes, is roughly the size of a small barbecue. ( Inc. called it “the robotic love child of a propane grill and a vacuum cleaner.”) It works by first emitting a plume of carbon dioxide, mimicking a large mammal’s breath, to attract mosquitoes, and then sucking those mosquitoes into a trap. One core patent, issued in 2000 and prosecuted by Pillsbury, covers the process for catalytically converting propane gas into carbon dioxide; the other, issued in 2001, covers the technology for vacuuming mosquitoes into the machine, where they dehydrate and die. The traps, which start at $300, are sold to individual homeowners, as well as to golf courses, outdoor restaurants, and resorts, and are carried by Home Depot, Lowes, and other major retailers. ABC’s success has inspired a host of imitators. The company filed its first infringement suit against Melrose, Mass.-based Armatron International Inc., in 2001 in federal district court in Rhode Island. Armatron asked the Patent and Trademark Office to re-examine the patent. During the re-exam, the case was stayed. In 2003 the PTO upheld both patents, and the two sides settled when Armatron agreed to license ABC’s technology. Even as it was battling Armatron, ABC filed another infringement suit in 2001, targeting Biting Insect Technologies Inc., a mosquito trap maker based in Harrisville, N.H. Biting Insect promptly agreed to take the offending traps off the market. The fight against Lentec International was more complicated. ABC’s lawyers at Pillsbury had originally pursued a two-track litigation strategy, filing one infringement complaint against the Orlando, Fla.-based Lentec in federal district court in Rhode Island in 2002, and another the following year with the International Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. The district court case was stayed, pending the conclusion of the PTO’s re-examination of ABC’s patents in the Armatron case. But soon after, in July 2003, Lentec filed for bankruptcy. Lentec subsequently failed to enter an appearance in ABC’s ITC case, resulting in a default judgment for ABC. The Pillsbury team, led by Adam Hess, a Northern Virginia-based partner, used the ITC ruling to stake a claim to Lentec’s assets in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court proceedings in Orlando. “We had to convince the bankruptcy court to give us something,” says Hess, explaining that his team fought over Lentec’s assets with other creditors. The upshot: In July 2004, the court liquidated Lentec’s assets and awarded ABC $50,000 plus three Lentec patents and one Lentec patent application, as well as 2,400 allegedly infringing mosquito traps, which are now buried in landfills in Florida and California. Though Rudd says that Lentec’s patents don’t cover any pioneering technology, he adds that they could prove useful, if another company tries to bring similar traps to the market. Last fall ABC scored another big infringement decision — this time against Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Blue Rhino, seller of a rival mosquito trap made in China and marketed as the Skeeter Vac. As in the Lentec case, Hess filed complaints against Blue Rhino in federal district court and with the ITC. This time ABC won an early victory in the ITC, when Blue Rhino was ordered to stop importing the offending traps, and proceeded to change its traps’ design. Still, Blue Rhino continued to press a claim with the ITC that ABC’s patents were invalid. Last fall the ITC shot down those claims — though it also found that Blue Rhino’s newly redesigned traps did not infringe ABC’s patents, as Pillsbury lawyers had alleged. “That’s a decision we can live with,” says Hess, who claims that Blue Rhino’s redesigned traps are not nearly as effective: “We can beat them in the marketplace.” Hess adds that ABC used its early victory on the consent order to win a favorable settlement in the district court case. Fresh patent challenges likely await, however, now that ABC is making an aggressive push to sell its traps overseas. “We believe we’ve only scratched the surface of the market globally,” says Rudd, who adds that the company sees big potential in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. In the past two years, Pillsbury, which also handles ABC’s prosecution work, has been coordinating efforts of patent agents overseas, and has overseen the filing of patent applications in almost two dozen countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Brazil, and Australia, as well as with the European Patent Office. ABC has recently been eyeing one potential infringer in Scotland: Texol Technical Solutions, maker of a trap for gnats that, according to Rudd, operates along the same lines as ABC’s products. “We’re very concerned that their technology is infringing on our British patents,” says Rudd. Rudd and ABC chief executive Iannetta both see a lot more knock-offs in the company’s future. “Anytime the market expands, people see new opportunities,” says Iannetta. But ABC is ready to give would-be infringers the same treatment it serves up to pesky mosquitoes. Patent violators, beware.

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